May 7, 2019

7 Education Debates to Watch as the Legislature Wraps Up

By Josh Crosson

With two weeks left in Minnesota’s 2019 legislative session (assuming we don’t head into a special session), our divided Legislature still has plenty to iron out. While legislators have proposed many student-centered policies that would advance equity in our schools, several measures on the table would move us in the wrong direction. There are many differences between the education bills from the Republican-controlled Senate and the DFL-controlled House. To work out their differences, both the House and the Senate will send five legislators to negotiate the biggest sticking points in their education bills. Below are the key debates to watch in the coming weeks.

FUNDING

School funding is probably the biggest question facing the education conference committee, with a $700 million gap between the House and Senate budgets. The House proposes increasing per-pupil formula funding by 3% in 2020 and 2% in 2021, while the Senate proposes a modest 0.5% increase each year. Beyond formula funding increases, the House increases funding for English Language Learners, school safety, special education, and various programs to incentivize teachers of color to stay in the classroom. The Senate increases funding for school safety while targeting investments in specific programs, including early learning scholarships and new and innovative teacher preparation programs. The bottom line: The House budget offers abundance with little innovation in how we can better spend the money, while the Senate budget provides improvements to systems with little new money to back up statewide priorities.

TEACHER LICENSURE

Less than a year into Minnesota’s new tiered teacher licensure system, House lawmakers advanced several troubling provisions to erect arbitrary licensure barriers and make it more difficult for Tier 1 and Tier 2 teachers to stay in the classroom, no matter their effectiveness with students. Specifically, the House education bill would:

  • Remove language intended to provide pathways to the classroom for teachers with a master’s degree or Ph.D.;
  • Remove pathways to permanent licensure for teachers who have demonstrated effectiveness over several years on a Tier 2 license, essentially pushing successful educators out of the profession after six years of teaching; and
  • Prevent schools from placing a student in a Tier 1 or Tier 2 teacher’s classroom for consecutive years, making it difficult for schools to staff unique programs that prepare students for college and career, and potentially creating even more churn and instability for the state’s highest-need students.

While the House is proposing millions in grants to reimburse teachers of color who complete traditional teacher preparation, it would also put up institutional barriers for—and potentially push out—the 23% of Minnesota’s teachers of color who are currently teaching under a Tier 1 or Tier 2 license. It would also risk forcing out 47% of Minnesota’s career and technical education teachers, who bring valuable professional experience to our classrooms.

In all, the House bill would return us to the broken licensure system it replaced, and force great teachers out of the profession. Thankfully, the Senate rejected similar proposals, leaving room to remove these harmful provisions during conference committee.
Take action on teacher licensure

SCHOOL DISCIPLINE

Last session, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle proposed policies to reduce the use of exclusionary discipline, which disproportionately impacts students of color, American Indian students, and students with disabilities. This year, the House advanced several vital provisions to decrease schools’ reliance on suspensions and expulsions, which research shows do not improve student behavior long-term. Specifically, the House bill requires schools to use non-exclusionary discipline practices for nonviolent behaviors, prohibits schools from suspending or expelling three- and four-year-olds (who are three times more likely to be dismissed than K-12 students), and requires the state to collect and report data on how often schools transfer students to another setting in lieu of dismissal.

The Senate did not include any improvements to school discipline in their education bill; once again, leaving the issue up for negotiation in conference committee.
Take action on school discipline

IMPROVING THE MINNESOTA COMPREHENSIVE ASSESSMENT

To make the most of the MCAs—which are designed to give objective information to educators, parents, and students on whether students are meeting Minnesota’s standards—we must improve testing administration and get results to families and educators faster. The Senate bill takes steps to do just that by requiring that schools administer the assessment as late as possible in the year, that parents receive results within 30 days of administration, and that educators receive data on each student before the start of the following school year. These changes would let parents know how their children are doing in school and provide teachers and school administrators with time to analyze data and implement learning plans.

The House makes a few subtle clarifications on assessments, but failed to adopt many of these more significant, commonsense changes, leaving the final decision to the conference committee.
Take action on the MCAs

ALTERNATIVE TEACHER PREPARATION

In 2017, lawmakers invested $750,000 in seed money for alternative teacher preparation programs working to fill local teacher shortages and increase teacher diversity. The Senate bill renews this investment with an additional $1 million. While the House bill also invests in teacher preparation, it focuses exclusively on institutes of higher education—making this yet another topic of discussion for conference committee members.

EARLY LEARNING

The Senate bill establishes a statewide kindergarten readiness assessment to help Minnesota track how prepared students are when they start school and make better, more informed investments as a result. The Senate also shifts more funding into parent-directed early learning scholarships. Meanwhile, the House bill increases funding to school-based early learning, or voluntary prekindergarten, and doubles down on this model by restricting early learning scholarship eligibility. Similar to the past several years, early learning will likely be a top issue in end-of-session negotiations.

CHOICE

The House bill includes two substantive changes to policy around charter school facility use. The good news: The House bill would allow charter schools to use building-lease aid for building enhancements, which would remove a long-standing barrier to creating safe and welcoming environments. The bad news: The House would restrict how charter schools can form partnerships around building ownership. Currently, charter schools are prohibited from owning their school buildings directly. They can, however, coordinate ownership by proxy with affiliated building corporations (ABCs). In some cases, multiple facilities partner with a single ABC to better coordinate and align their needs. The House proposal would limit ABCs to partnering with just one charter school, placing barriers to this coordination and requiring each facility to have its own ABC.

Because the Senate has not advanced any of these charter-related measures, the conference committee will need to negotiate these proposals.

WHAT’S NEXT?

Policymakers are also discussing several other topics, like updating our sexual education standards, ensuring screening for dyslexia, eliminating certain reporting and engagement requirements for special education services, and much more.

A 10-member education conference committee is meeting throughout the week to compare the details of the House and Senate bills and negotiate through the differences. Follow us for more in the coming weeks to learn how legislators are—or are not—making progress for our most historically underserved learners and how you can take action.