Three big developments in education finance occurred in the Midwest over the past few months — a major state Supreme Court ruling in Kansas, a new school-funding formula in Illinois, and a change in the retirement plans for Michigan teachers. Here is a brief look at what happened in each state.
Before state education officials sent off Minnesota’s plan for implementing the Every Student Succeeds Act to the federal government, Rep. Sondra Erickson wanted to make sure one important constituency got the chance to hear about it and weigh in. That group was the state’s legislators, who four years earlier had revamped how Minnesota evaluates school performance.
The Legislature dubbed this new system the “World’s Best Workforce,” which focuses on getting students ready for success in the K-12 system (all third-graders reading at grade level, for example) and for life after high school. It measures the progress of each of the state’s schools in four main areas — standardized test scores, the closing of achievement gaps, college and career readiness, and graduation rates.
“What was important to me was that our system for federal accountability [under the ESSA] align with our existing state accountability system,” says Erickson, chair of the Minnesota House Education Innovation Policy Committee. “We don’t want to have teachers, parents and students conflicted.”
To that end, Erickson not only requested a legislative hearing on the ESSA in the 2017 omnibus education bill (HF 2), she included statutory language that the implementation plan be “consistent and aligned, to the extent practicable,” with World’s Best Workforce.
Erickson likes what she learned about the plan, saying it will provide for “continuity and consistency.”
A central tenet of the 2015 federal law was to give states more flexibility on education policy, and the ESSA has not supplanted changes made by states to their accountability systems. Instead, state ESSA plans mostly incorporate some of the new federal requirements (such as accounting for progress made by English language learners and including a measure of “school quality”) into their accountability systems.
Less than two months after a silver carp (one of four species of Asian carp) was found nine miles from Lake Michigan and beyond the three electric barriers designed to prevent their movement, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers unveiled a plan that would add a new layer of protection for the Great Lakes.
For a cost of $275 million, the Corps says, a mix of structural barriers and other control measures could be installed at the Brandon Road Lock and Dam. The federal agency released its “tentatively selected plan” in August and is taking public comments through Oct. 2.
In the coming years, the Midwest’s legislators are likely to hear much more about and be asked to act on a range of issues surrounding education accountability.
How well are elementary and middle schools doing on our state’s measures of academic growth among all students, at all learning levels? Are our high schools adequately preparing young people for success in college and/or careers? Do our schools provide for a well-rounded education and a climate conducive to learning? How prevalent is chronic absenteeism among our state’s students, and what policies can reduce it? What type of state interventions have helped turn around the lowest-performing schools? These issues aren’t new, and certainly policymakers have tried to tackle them in the past, but they will get even more attention because of the Every Student Succeeds Act and, in particular, new state plans in this region to implement it.
This 2015 federal law (along with some of the waivers granted to states under its federal predecessor, the No Child Left Behind Act) has ushered in a new era in the state-federal relationship on education — more flexibility for states, including new options for evaluating schools and intervening in low-performing ones.
Michigan legislators gave unanimous approval in July to a bill that sets statewide rules for the retention and release of footage captured on police body cameras. HB 4427, signed into law in July, takes effect in January. It requires evidentiary recordings to be kept by law enforcement for at least 30 days. Footage related to complaints against a police officer must be retained for three years; any recording that is part of an ongoing criminal investigation must be kept until completion of the legal case.
As the Midwest’s legislators look for ways to reduce infant mortality, prevent maternal deaths, and improve long-term outcomes for mothers and children, one policy option is to invest in home visiting.
The idea of bringing preventive services and resources to the place where families live has captured more interest, and funding, during this decade.
Eight years have now passed since the Great Recession rocked state finances, and since that time, state policymakers have had to settle for a modest recovery and still deal with a difficult fiscal environment. In a July presentation to state legislators, John Hicks, executive director of the National Association of State Budget Officers, detailed just how different — and more challenging — this period has been compared to other post-recession eras.
Since 2011, year-to-year revenue growth in the states has never reached the historic annual average of 5.5 percent, and for fiscal year 2018, the nation’s governors were recommending an increase of only 1.0 percent (and just 0.17 percent in the 11-state Midwest).
“That’s a notable item eight years into a recovery, and it isn’t because we’re cutting taxes and having to balance our budget as a result,” Hicks said during his presentation at the Midwestern Legislative Conference Annual Meeting’s Fiscal Leaders Roundtable. Instead, this slow rise in state spending reflects a “new normal” in tax collections, the result of only moderate increases in gross domestic product and, on top of that, a gap between changes in U.S. gross domestic product and the taxes being collected by states.
Illinois has become the first state in the Midwest to offer automatic voter registration, a tool for increasing electoral participation already being tried in eight other states. SB 1933 received unanimous approval in the Illinois House and Senate. Under the measure, voters will be registered when they visit the Illinois secretary of state and other state agencies for services. Individuals will be able to opt out of the system.
One high school in North Dakota might want to launch a “technology academy” where its 12th-graders intern and earn credits toward graduation at a nearby Microsoft campus. Another school could change the way it awards credits, moving away from required “seat time” and toward a model based on students’ mastery of the subject area or on their practical learning experiences. Or perhaps some middle schools would like to create “accelerated learning environments,” where students can earn high school credits in subjects such as
Whatever the idea, if it has the potential to advance education, the North Dakota legislature wants to make sure the state’s statutes and regulations aren’t standing in the way, Sen. Nicole Poolman says.
Over the next two years, Indiana will invest an additional $20 million in a pilot initiative that provides low-income families with access to pre-kindergarten programs. First established in 2014, On My Way Pre-K currently serves nearly 2,300 students in five counties.
Additional state dollars will expand the initiative’s reach to 15 more counties. To participate, students must be 4 years old and reside in a family at or below 127 percent of the federal poverty level. (For the original five counties, the income thresholds could be loosened.) The state also will provide funding for in-home, online early-childhood education in parts of the state that lack high-quality providers.