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Progressive Politics in Minnesota, the Nation, and the World

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.
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Law Enforcement And The Black Community - Who Will Lead?

Posted: 12/27/14 09:18

by Dave Mindeman

Being a police officer has always been a tough job. But in today's climate, it has become combat duty hazardous. The vast majority of officers try to do their jobs in a professional manner, quietly getting things done.

But let's face it, there are some bad actors within every department that make the job difficult for everybody else.

But it's not just the police force, it's the police administration and the municipal political establishment. Over the years the relationship of police and the African-American urban communities has deteriorated to such a level that each considers the other, the enemy.

The Michael Brown and Eric Garner investigations did not instill any confidence in an ability to improve those relations. The damage done is extensive. The facts in each case warranted some kind of indictment - even a minor charge that would have led to more public facts and examination that might have been sufficient to avoid the hopeless feelings of a lack of justice.

And it isn't about these cases in isolation. Police have become accustomed to racial profiling, black suspect suspicion, razor edge shoot first mentality in black neighborhoods, and a basic "us vs them" drawing of lines.

Part of this is a ridiculous drug war that has less and less reason to exist. Part of this is racial poverty lines which lead to desperate measures and need to be addressed. And part of this is a lack of community dialogue made difficult by mutual mistrust --exacerbated by a lack of minority representation in police personnel.

Dragging police activity into a political divide is another big mistake. This isn't about conservative support for police or liberal support for the African-American community.

The reality is that it is all about right and wrong. And until we deal with facts rather than stereotypes, we will always be lost in the emotions of past mistrust.

On the one hand we need to stop "protecting" police officers from their own behavior. There is no excuse for a Cleveland police officer to kill a 12 year old boy for holding a toy gun. I understand the need to protect oneself, but with no warning and a shoot to kill confrontation?... there was no just cause involved. On the other hand, the black community needs to evaluate what they can do within their own "family" to build a bridge to the local police departments and work to find ways to pull their young people out of that violent spiral fueled by hopelessness and frustration.

All of it just feels bad. There are few hopeful signs. The political dynamic worsens it. The lines are stark and drawn with rigidity.

The killing of two police officers in New York was tragic. It feeds the division. It adds to the hopelessness. But the first thing to do is to not turn a tragedy into politics. This was the lone act of a deranged individual - not some response to legitimate protest. Anyone who would suggest such a thing is part of the problem, not part of any solution. And anyone who would remotely suggest that the killing of these two officers was justified revenge has no business partaking in civilized society.

It is NOT the police vs the black community. Unfortunately, it almost seems that way in how we react to these tragic situations. We have to find better methods of training, better avenues of dialogue, and better leadership on both sides.

This is a cancer in our society and we need to fight it. Fight it hard. And we need transparency from all aspects of law enforcement.

Someone needs to step up and lead.
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