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Tracking a bill toward becoming law: the graduate edition

When the digital-learning bill was taken back up, it was stripped of its controversy, passed and then signed into law.

♫ Well, now I'm stuck in committee// And I'll sit here and wait ♫

As a kid, I was a big fan of “Schoolhouse Rock.” You know, those animated shorts that aired during afternoon television that set social studies factoids, math equations and grammar rules to music. Cartoon characters acted out catchy, repetitive lyrics in songs like “Sufferin’ ‘til Suffrage” or “Lolly, Lolly, Lolly, Get Your Adverbs Here.”

Indeed, one of my enduring disappointments as a parent is that my own kids are content to do their learning the old-fashioned way — at school, with books — rather than by breaking out the 45s for a “Conjunction Junction” dance party.

To this day, I cannot step foot in the state Capitol without hearing actor Jack Shelton belt out my all-time favorite, 1975’s bluesy “I’m Just a Bill,” in which a peripatetic cylinder of paper frets about his chances. I’m working up to a point here, honest, but indulge me:

I’m just a bill
Yes I’m only a bill,
And I got as far as Capitol Hill.
Well, now I’m stuck in committee
And I’ll sit here and wait
While a few key Congressmen discuss and debate
Whether they should let me be a law.
How I hope and pray that they will,
But today I am still just a bill.

Bill carved off, stripped of controversy

On Tuesday, I reported that Minnesota this year adopted a law that will require high-school students to complete at least one digital course before they can graduate starting in 2014. This is not true. Minnesota this year adopted a law that clarifies the state’s definition of and position toward digital learning and smoothes the way for its expansion.

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“Schoolhouse Rock,” it seems, left out the part where, at the 11th hour a controversial provision of an umbrella measure called an omnibus bill gets carved off in the dank nether regions of the statehouse, quietly returned where it started as a stand-alone bill. Curiously, when this one was taken back up, it was stripped of its controversy, passed and then signed into law. I missed the part where it was stripped of its controversy.

House File 2127 and its companion, Senate File 1528, were among a number of measures introduced here this year and last that bear striking resemblances to model legislation crafted by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a membership organization of corporations, think tanks and lawmakers who join one another on junkets to draft business-friendly bills for legislators to introduce at home.

ALEC has sponsored such controversial measures as Voter ID and the “shoot-first” or Castle Doctrine legislation at issue in the Trayvon Martin killing in Florida as well as a number of private-sector “reforms” in education. Its members include a number of for-profit digital-learning providers who would have benefited greatly from the creation of a requirement that Minnesota students consume their offerings.

To be clear, HF2127’s original author, Rep. Pam Myhra, is an ALEC member but has vehemently denied her bill was an ALEC creation.

The measure made it out of the requisite committees and into the 2012 omnibus education bill, which alert readers will recall sat idle for quite some time while lawmakers went home for Easter break, attempted to make Gov. Mark Dayton look like the school-funding Grinch and generally avoided dealing with the fact that it contained controversy.

Senate version of provision passed

On April 26, I reported — accurately at that point — that in the end they punted, passing a bare-bones omnibus bill. HF2127 and SF1528 were taken up two days later, at which point the Senate version passed, under the title “Digital, blended and online learning requirements.”

So where did I err? I looked at what I believed to be the final engrossment — or iteration — of the bill, not at the session law drawn up by the Revisor of Statutes for presentation to the governor two days later. Chapter 273, which Dayton signed on May 3, but which is still not actually official session law, does not contain a provision requiring students to take a digital class in order to graduate.

I’m guessing I’ll get the chance to employ this more precise method of following bills next year, as ALEC does not appear to have lost interest in the expansion of online learning, which topped the agenda for its spring meeting, held three weeks ago in Charlotte, N.C.