March 27, 2024

2024 Mid-Session Madness: Which Student-Centered Policies Will Advance?

By Matt Shaver

Despite promises from lawmakers that this year would be much quieter than 2023’s legislative session, there’s been no shortage of activity at the Capitol this year. We’re about halfway through the legislative session-what education priorities have taken shape? What has a chance at becoming law, and what’s been tabled?

Early Priorities

Shortly after session began, Governor Walz laid out his administration’s K-12 education priorities. First was a much-debated bill to roll back limits on the use of dangerous holds in schools. After much controversy over the new limits this fall, the Governor called on his agencies to work with legislators to prioritize a change—a big shift after naming the original ban a priority in 2023. The Governor signed the policy into law as soon as it passed mid-March. You can read our breakdown of the changes here. While the debate on prone restraint and other dangerous holds is over for now, there is still work to be done and a chance to get involved- the Peace Officers Standards and Training (POST) Board is set to create a model policy for the role of SROs in schools.

The Governor’s broader education policy bill contained mostly technical fixes. The most notable policy proposal in the Governor’s bill is a Book Ban Prohibition, which bars school boards and public libraries from banning or removing books based on their viewpoints or content. This provision caused quite the debate in committee hearings that were otherwise quiet. Legislators also spent time digging in on some of the more nuanced policy changes, including a proposal to change the date by which school assessment data must be made public, pushing it back from September to December. More on that below.

Policy Omnibus Bills in Motion

Both the House and Senate introduced their education policy omnibus bills last week. These bills capture the items likely to advance without any funding attached to them. While education finance committees received the target for how much they may spend this year—a total of $43 million, likely to disappoint those hoping the surplus might address deep district-level budget gaps—we likely won’t see proposals on which bills with funding attached will advance for a few more weeks. Here are some key highlights and differences from the policy  bills:

  • Tier 1 Special Education Licensure: Earlier this year, the federal Office of Special Education Programs requested changes to Minnesota licensure policy to ensure students have highly trained teachers—namely, that educators advance from a Tier 1 license within three years. Both the House and Senate include language to address this, though it differs slightly—and also contains confusing language that goes beyond federal requirements, which could create barriers for aspiring educators down the road. These provisions will need further vetting in conference committee to align language and hopefully address the technical concerns EdAllies has raised in several hearings.
  • Better College & Career Indicators in World’s Best Workforce: Research shows that 9th grade is a critical year for graduation and college and career readiness. A bill this year would create a new measure for tracking whether students are on track at the end of freshman year, while also improving measures of rigorous coursework access. This language advanced in the House bill.
  • Read Act 2.0: Last year’s Read Act was a sea change on literacy instruction, but left a few loose ends that legislators are tackling this year, from clarifying language to supplementing funding. The Senate policy bill includes some changes to the Read Act, including a midyear screening requirement. We expect additional proposals in the House and Senate education finance bills.
  • Assessment Reporting: At the request of the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE), both bills would delay the release of state assessment scores to December 1, well into the next school year. The current statutory deadline is September 1, which has been the standard for 20 years, allowing test scores to be released publicly just before the school year starts.
Still in the Mix

There are several other key issues that had multiple committee hearings, but the future of which is still unclear. Most of the bills still pending have fiscal implications, so will need to be weighed against other priorities to see what takes precedence in a year with a fairly small supplemental budget. Some items we’re still watching include:

  • Paid Student Teaching: Student teaching can be a significant barrier to entry in the teaching profession, as it’s 12 weeks of unpaid work. This is especially prohibitive for non-traditional students, who may be changing careers, enrolled in school part-time, or supporting a family while completing teacher prep. A few bills were introduced this session to address this. Rep. Norris’ (D- Blaine) and Sen. Gustafson’s (D- Vadnais Heights) bill would pay stipends to all student teachers statewide, while Rep. Urdahl’s (R-Grove City) bill would create a grant program to fund full-year student teaching experience for candidates with financial need. Each bill carries significant fiscal notes in a year with little additional education funding, but they are technically still in play.

A third bill to increase grants specifically for underrepresented student teachers did not get a hearing in the higher education committees, and almost no new money is slated to go to higher ed this year.

  • Chronic Absenteeism: We’ve written about the chronic absenteeism crisis in Minnesota schools and made it one of our core priorities this session. Rep. Keeler (D-Moorhead) and Sen. Mann (D- Edina) introduced a bill that would improve the state’s data collection practices around absenteeism, to ensure a robust understanding of the problem before proposing policy solutions. Rep. Sencer-Mura (D-Minneapolis) and Sen. Cwodzinksi (D- Eden Prairie) introduced a bill that would provide each district in the state with one-time funding to address absenteeism in ways they deem appropriate. Both bills are under consideration in the House, and despite a lack of hearings in the Senate, we are hopeful for a compromise to advance action on this issue. While the future of these bills are unclear, the absenteeism crisis in Minnesota will not go away without targeted action at the state and local levels. EdAllies will continue to monitor the bills’ progress at the Capitol and advocate for investments in improving school attendance.
  • Automatic Enrollment: EdAllies worked with Rep. Norris (D-Blaine) and Sen. Mann (D-Edina) to introduce a bill creating an automatic enrollment pilot program. Automatic enrollment refers to schools automatically registering qualified students in advanced coursework like AP or honors classes. Studies show this reduces racial and income-based disparities in advanced classes. The bill was heard in both the House and Senate and laid over for inclusion in each chamber’s omnibus bill, and while it did not appear in the policy bill, we are advocating to see the pilot funded through the forthcoming K-12 funding bill.
Stalled Until 2025

Even with nearly two months left of session, anything is still possible, but some issues have sputtered after early momentum.

One issue that started with a lot of promise was the move to ensure universal FAFSA completion. Data from other states show that by making FAFSA completion a high school graduation requirement, students of color and students from low-income families have improved access to college. We’ve worked on this issue in coalition the past few years, and this year SF1275, a bipartisan Universal FAFSA bill, was heard in the Senate Higher Education Committee and unanimously passed onto the Senate Education Finance Committee. Unfortunately it didn’t secure any further hearings, making it unlikely that the bill will make it across the finish line this year.

There was also significant conversation about next steps on improving student discipline practice. While the prone restraint bill dominated school discipline conversations, a few positive bills were also in the mix. Rep. Hanson’s bill modifies the discipline complaint process, and a bill by Rep. Hicks and Sen. Westlin adds mediation requirements for disputes over services for students with disabilities. Unfortunately, neither bill received a hearing.

What’s Next?

On March 22nd, the House, Senate, and Governor’s office agreed to spending targets for this session which set aside a total of $43 million in new spending: $25 million that can only be used for one time budget items and $18 million for ongoing expenses. This is a tiny amount, particularly in the context of last year’s multi-billion dollar investment, and leaves little room for decision makers to be bold. The question will be whether these resources will be sprinkled among many different priorities or focused on a handful of items.

While the fate of some policies are sealed, we’re only halfway through session and several issues are still at play. We’ll be watching closely for important bills that contain fiscal notes, like the Read Act 2.0, which proposes stipends for teachers to complete new training requirements, the Increase Teachers of Color Act, which provides scholarships for aspiring teachers of color, and paid student teaching bills. Stay tuned for real-time updates and our end-of-session recap in May!

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