This is a long update, but I know many of you are interested in what is happening in the Committee rooms. It is quite a soap opera...
The House Ed Committee highlights:
The committee debated refusing to take action on Challenges for Change. The Chairwoman's concern was that someone else might end up with the authority to make cuts if the committee didn't respond to CfC. Rep. Kilmartin went back to H.782 as a way to jumpstart reorganizing the system from the bottom up. Rep. Waite-Simpson argued for falling back on 2% budget cuts next year (to meet the 23 million shortfall) and removing a vote of the electorate to determine school budgets since they were being dictated anyway. By mid morning the committee took a call from Bob Gensburg who was part of the original Brigham decision legal team. It was his opinion that if they legislated a mandated budget cut that had penalties for non-compliance, they would be opening the door for lawsuits.
At this point Rep. Kilmartin made a motion that the committee withdraw from CfC and refuse to comply. The legislative aide was called in to draft that language.
Education Commissioner Vilaseca happened by and said he was fine with that course of action, and would also be happy to see the re-emergence of H.782 with some of the language addressed. Kilmartin tried to pin him down on his position on Independent Schools, and Vilaseca said he has been very clear with the independents about his issues. We know this to be: you need to offer SPED, and you need to take all comers.
At this point they were told Shap Smith, Speaker of the House wanted to meet with them in his office (the woodshed?) before their vote on the motion. Those of us on the sidelines conferred and I heard we were not allowed in the meeting. The ACLU observer in the room declared he was going in and they could arrest him if they didn't like it, at which point there was a sudden venue change and the Speaker came to the committee room. At that point the Speaker skillfully conveyed that not taking action was not an option.
The day ended with language being drafted that puts the responsibility for determining how much each district will be asked to cut from their FY12 budget, taking into account each district's unique circumstances, back onto the commissioner. That language will be presented to the committee tomorrow for a vote. I imagine this will not be well received by the commissioner.
Meanwhile, in the Senate Ed Committee:
There is a miscellaneous education committee bill that is being discussed that restructures the Dept of Ed. It also includes language that would required independent schools to provide SPED or have a relationship with an entity that does.
The afternoon was spent discussing the hearings. Senator Brock took copious notes during the hearings and attempted to categorize comments and keep a score sheet. They spent quite a lot of time discussing the choice comments, there was a wide variety, and the many impressive positions taken by the parents. Other issues that were noted: tax burden, consolidation, small schools, unique geographic situations, fear of quality decline, lack of data.
It is so clear that your voices are having an impact on what is being considered. I hope you will stay involved and tuned in - consistent and politically diverse parent voices are THE critical component in the process - giving the legislators reason to take political risk in support of choice.
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