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Progressive Politics in Minnesota, the Nation, and the World

Why Hold The Ed Budget Hostage Over Pre-K?

Posted: 05/18/15 10:01

by Dave Mindeman

Why would an education bill get vetoed over Pre-K? Why would a governor be so insistent on one program? What is the reason.

Well, there are several reasons and recent studies on Pre-K education show some very compelling arguments.

First, Pre-K early learning benefits are very evident...

One of the most far-reaching recent studies found marked increases in children's skills across five states: Michigan, New Jersey, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and West Virginia. Overall, children in state pre-k posted vocabulary scores that were 31 percent higher and math gains that were 44 percent higher than those of non-participants. These gains placed pre-k children three to four months ahead of non-participants, largely due to participation in the state program. The greatest gains occurred in print awareness, where participants had an 85 percent increase, which suggests these outcomes strongly predict later reading success.

Second, there is the benefit in regards to the achievement gap. Minnesota has struggled for years with this obvious blemish on our record - the achievement gap. One of the reasons that Governor Dayton is standing so firm on Pre-K is that it can be a great benefit to that long standing achievement gap issue....

In the High/Scope study, low-income black children randomly selected to receive the comprehensive preschool program showed impressive long-term results regarding educational progress, delinquency, and earnings. Seventy-seven percent of these youngsters eventually graduated from high school, compared with 60 percent from the control group. In adulthood pre-k participants were also less likely to be arrested for violent crimes, more likely to be employed, and more likely to earn higher wages than those in the comparison group.

But there is a third major benefit and this is where the House GOP argument crashes and burns....there is a huge benefit in cost savings...

High-quality pre-k programs also provide substantial cost savings to federal, state, and local governments. Numerous studies have shown a reduced use of special education services and lower grade retention among pre-k participants. In the Abecedarian study, for example, 24 percent of pre-k children received special education services, versus 48 percent of the control group. Given the high cost of these interventions pre-k can produce significant financial benefits for school districts.

Numerous studies have proven this cost benefit analysis. For every $1 spent on Pre-K the cost savings benefit ranges from $4 up to a $10 return. That is not throwing money at the problem - that is investing in the issue for a guaranteed return.

These are the reasons that Pre-K has become the core issue in this year's budget. That is why this Governor has drawn his line in the sand. This is not just about money, this is about taking a stand on Minnesota's future.

Looking ahead to our next generation, what we do now on Pre-K could put Minnesota into the nation's top tier for education, economic growth, and stability in our budgets.

That's worth fighting for...and worth standing alongside Governor Dayton to achieve.
comments (1) permalink

MN Legislature Focuses On Wrong Teacher Personnel Problem

Posted: 02/21/15 23:59

by Dave Mindeman

The legislature continues to fill this balloon that critiques LIFO as a method of teachers getting laid off. The proponents of changing this (which affects only 40% of school districts), are citing a report from the Minnesota Department of Education. This is what they find troubling.....

Between 2008 and 2013, nearly 2,200 Minnesota teachers were laid off under the so-called "last in, first out" provision in state law, according to a recent analysis by the Minnesota Department of Education.

If you just glance at that you think, wow, 2200 teachers that's a lot. But then you see that it is over a 5 year period. Which means the number is actually an average of 440 teachers per year - in an education teacher workforce of over 50,000.

I took a look at the broader report and it seems to me that our legislature has missed the boat here. That report deals more with teacher shortage issues than labor layoff problems.

Let's look at some of the other facts in the report.

We are losing teachers at an average rate of 8% per year - it has increased to 10.2% over the last 2 cycles.

Teacher retention is 86% meaning teachers stick with their job into the next year. Only 4.5% of hires are new licensees. Another 3.5% of hires are from teachers who are "unretiring" - coming back to the profession after leaving.

Another troubling fact is that 16.4% of teachers leave the profession after 1 year....and almost a third (32.3%) leave before they have taught 5 years.

A survey question asked school districts as to how many of them were "forced to reduce staff due to funding restraints"? Only 14% answered yes while 86% said no. But 20% of the districts could not find anyone to hire for some special ed programs....and a full 50% found the positions difficult to fill. Even in core curriculum like Chemistry and Math, 9% of districts had positions that could not be filled and 38% said they had difficulty finding teachers to hire.

The main positive in the report is that over the last 5 years we have managed to hold the student/teacher ratio average at 14.7 students.

But want to hear more disturbing trends?

96% of the teacher workforce in Minnesota is white. But minority students are rapidly increasing. In 2008, 23.5% of students were minority. In 2014, that number was 28.5%.....projections show us that in 2019, we will have a student body which is at 30.6% and by 2014 a full third of our students (33.5%) will be made up of minority kids.

And then there is special permissions. This means the district hired a teacher who doesn't meet the description criteria (but gets a waiver to do so) for the position they fill. This happens 6% of the time overall, but over 20% in special education. In fact, one statistic states that 11% of districts could not fill a position dedicated to Emotional/Behavior Disorders. An area that takes up a big portion of school budgets these days.

After looking at that report, I think the legislature needs to change their priorities....and fast. We have a teacher shortage problem and the incidental layoffs that occur in various districts are not the problem we need to deal with.

Instead of this GOP war on teacher's unions (helped along by some key Democrats), the legislature needs to tackle the minority learning disparity and teacher shortages (especially in rural areas, right House GOP?)

I would hope that those citing this report as some kind of proof of a LIFO (Last In-First Out) problem, at least read the rest of the report.

Because that information said a lot more.
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Challenge The Rep. Davids Rants On MNsure

Posted: 02/06/15 00:08

by Dave Mindeman

Rep. Greg Davids thinks that MNsure should be scrapped because...

"I've been saying for three years this is not going to work and now it has not worked and we need to figure out what to do," Davids said. "This has been a $200 million debacle, and the Legislature had better stand up and do something about it."

Here we go again. Yes, MNsure was a failure in its technology. The website was horrible. But what was the real purpose of MNsure? Answer: To reduce the number of Minnesotans who were uninsured.

And what happened in that regard?

...the state's uninsured rate dropped from 8.9 percent in the fall of 2013 to just 4.9 percent over the course of the 2014 open enrollment period -- the lowest rate in state history.

And in the current year, 2015, MNsure has surpassed 106,000 in sign-ups as of January 23 - with over 3 weeks to go before the deadline.

As Rep. Davids would be quick to point out, the number of private plans (Qualified Health Plans) that have signed on with the exchange has not been close to estimates, but that is also a result of the technology problem.

People who needed insurance but who were not eligible for Federal subsidies could go anywhere to buy their insurance - and get pretty much the same rate as they could get on the exchange. A large number did just that because of all the problems surrounding the technical glitches that occurred from the beginning.

It is not hard to hypothesize that if the website had started smoothly from the beginning, the majority of people buying private plans would have gone to the exchange because it would have been easier to make comparisons with all of the carriers being in one place. As things have improved with the website, more people are doing just that.

So far this year, the numbers in private plans is about equal to those who have qualified for Medical Assistance.

Davids may be comfortable to characterize MNsure as a $200 million debacle, but most of that $200 million came from the Federal Government as seed money for building the exchange. Each state had the same opportunity to get similar grants for their own exchanges - and that money was budgeted into the ACA from the beginning.

I will concede that MNsure has had to request an additional stipend because of the low number of qualified health plans that occurred in the first year - but their is no reason to believe that the original plan of a self-sustaining website cannot be achieved. The exchange still holds good promise to be the best place to shop and compare for health insurance.

Another proposal that is gaining traction is to do away with the public board that is responsible for overseeing MNsure - and make it a department in the executive branch run by a commissioner and with oversight by the legislature.

I disagree with this proposal.

The original intent for the public board was to take MNsure out of the partisan political mix and let it operate as independently as possible. I hate to have to keep repeating this, but it was the website technical failure that prevented the board from doing its job - not the essence of the ACA. And, as you might expect, the MNsure opponents were all too eager to make the bungled site a partisan poster boy for their feelings about the ACA in general.

But putting MNsure into the executive branch will only enhance that partisan aspect and cause more dysfunction in the future. Consider the first post-Dayton Republican Governor who gets his hands on MNsure and the opportunity to gut the funding of that department. Minnesotans would have their health care put in jeopardy once again and the ACA fight would be fought in partisan political terms virtually forever - or until the public gets sick of the obstruction and demands that it be allowed to work.

Rep. Davids has never considered or looked at the actual successful mission of MNsure. It has worked in getting to Minnesota's uninsured. We have the second lowest uninsured rate in the nation. And we did that despite a horrible technical website that made the task as difficult as possible.

Rep. Davids and his Republican co-horts will never talk about that. To them MNsure will always be an unqualified failure.

Democrats need to keep fighting to preserve the essence of what MNsure stands for - insurance for everyone. Fix the glitches but preserve the law.

Rep. Davids will continue to rant - but let's at least challenge him on the facts.
comments (2) permalink


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