A Wrap on the 2023 Session: Tenacious DFL
By Matt Shaver
Last week, Minnesota lawmakers wrapped up what many are calling an historic legislative session. With a record-setting budget surplus and a DFL trifecta for the first time since 2017, Democrats were able to pass a robust legislative agenda without many roadblocks from their Republican colleagues. With the ink still fresh on many of these bills, what do these policies actually mean for Minnesota kids? Take a look below for a recap of the key policy areas EdAllies tracked this session, including: discipline, teacher licensure, literacy, and the education budget.
Major investments for kids and families
In a budget year with more than $17 billion in surplus up for grabs, there are plenty of special interests working hard at the Capitol for their slice of the pie – families, particularly those experiencing poverty, often are sidelined. This year, however, several key wins made it across the finish line. We get into education budget details below, but first we’ll recap other big efforts that will benefit kids and families.
First was the bipartisan push to ensure that every child in Minnesota has something to eat when they come to school each day. Inspired by the federal efforts to reduce childhood hunger—active during the pandemic but not renewed for the 2022 school year—the Hunger Free Schools Coalition led the way to establish universal meals in Minnesota starting this fall. Hungry kids struggle in school and universal meals have been shown to improve outcomes for families and students. Soon, families will be able to count on meals for all students.
Next, two improvements in the tax bill will have long lasting effects on families. First, the K-12 tax credit was updated from $1,000 to $1,500, and the income threshold will increase from $35k to $70k ensuring that more families have support for educational expenses like tutoring and school supplies.
Second, Minnesota became a nationwide leader in ensuring a robust Child Tax Credit, modeled off of a pandemic-era effort to make raising children more affordable. The federal Child Tax Credit boost temporarily cut child poverty by ¼ nationwide and families often used additional funds for educational expenses. The Minnesota Child Tax Credit is estimated to cut childhood poverty by ⅓ by providing $1750 per child to low-income families.
Coupled together, these three changes will provide Minnesota families with significant additional resources for their children – a clear win for kids.
Progress on Improving Discipline Outcomes
While Minnesota has made some progress in the previous years to address unacceptable disparities in discipline outcomes, this year was a breakthrough. A set of new policies will help ensure that our youngest learners in particular will have access to their education and will be supported with effective interventions for behavior challenges.
Building off the success of a PreK dismissal ban in 2020, advocates worked to make sure students in K-3 would not be dismissed for subjective behavior mistakes. Ultimately, legislators extended that same protection through 3rd grade.
The new law also requires schools to prioritize non-exclusionary discipline options like mental health services, literacy supports, and family engagement. One exclusionary and ineffective practice schools will be dropping is the use of recess detentions. All kids deserve the opportunity to socialize and be physically active, and this new law will make sure that happens for students moving forward. These new discipline laws go into effect for the 2023-2024 school year.
Another major change in discipline practices flew under the radar this session. Seclusion, the act of locking a student with disability alone in a room for an undetermined amount of time, is finally on the way out as of 2024. 73% of all seclusions are done to Minnesota students in preK-3rd grade—but once the law goes into effect, this harmful practice will no longer be allowed for these youngest learners. A stakeholder working group is also charged to come up with a timeline to eliminate seclusions in 4th-12th grade.
A mixed bag on teacher diversity and addressing shortages
Teacher diversity and addressing shortages of educators in key fields was a hot topic this session. While no action was taken on a bill that aimed to accurately and consistently define how we measure teacher shortages in Minnesota, legislators still moved forward with efforts to bring educators into hard-to-staff positions. Bills advanced to increase the number of licensed special education, heritage language and culture, and world language and arts teachers—appropriating funding and creating additional pathways to the classroom.
Meanwhile, the legislature made a counterintuitive decision to eliminate pathways to a Tier 2 license for all prospective educators. Despite significant controversy and concerns from the field, legislators repealed six of the nine pathways to earn a Tier 2 license. By eliminating pathways used by nearly 800 teachers from diverse backgrounds, the legislature chose to make it harder to become a teacher for future non-traditional and career changing educators. They did leave a pathway intact to move from Tier 2 to Tier 3 based on experience in the classroom, but the changes to Tier 2 qualifications will make it a nearly unusable route to a permanently-renewable Tier 3 license.
All students deserve access to diverse educators and unless changes are made to reshape Tier 2 licensure in a future session, Minnesota students will miss out.
Best Practices in Early Literacy Get a Passing Grade
There were three major proposals at the legislature to address unacceptable reading outcomes. The READ Act from House/Senate DFLers, Reading RESET from House/Senate Republicans, and BOLD Literacy from Governor Walz all had a similar goal of aligning the preparation, training, resources, and supports that educators need to effectively teach all children to read. The final shape and specifics were hammered out over the course of several months at the legislature, with funding for key provisions up in the air until the final days of the session. Community and family engagement were critical to getting a final bill across the line that had funding coupled with policy change to improve literacy for all kids.
The final version of the READ Act totals $75 million in investment for: training ($35 million), curriculum ($35 million), and a research partnership ($4.2 million) in the science of reading. It also includes a list of policy changes:
- Requires all PreK-3rd grade teachers, K-12 intervention teachers, special education teachers, and curriculum directors to be trained in the science of reading (by 7/1/27)
- All students K-3 must be screened 2x a year for dyslexia using MDE-approved screeners
- Districts must develop local literacy plans aligned with evidence-based practices and reported to the Minnesota Department of Education
- Bans “three-cueing” reading strategy from teacher prep and classroom instruction
- Every district must hire a trained literacy lead
- MDE and CAREI partner to identify best practice-aligned training (8/15/23) and curriculum for which schools may use READ Act and Literacy Incentive Aid funds (1/1/24)
- Establishes science of reading-aligned uses for literacy incentive aid
A Student-Centered Budget(?)
In odd-numbered years, the legislature must pass a budget—and with a big surplus, there was no doubt K-12 would end up with a significant, historic increase in funding. Leadership gave education a 10% funding increase, meaning the K-12 budget for the next two years is $23 billion.
With a large increase, the challenge was deciding how to divvy those additional resources. Legislators grappled with how much to increase the general education formula and whether or not to link it to inflation, how to deal with funding gaps in special education and English learner education, and how to untangle additional funds for students in poverty from free and reduced price meal forms.
Ultimately, the legislature increased the general education formula by 4% this year and 2% the following year – this ate up about $700 million of the $2.3 billion in new spending. The final bill also includes a provision to tie future formula increases to an inflation-like adjustment, so that schools can expect a minimum of a 2% increase in the future.
A solution to the special education cross subsidy has long eluded legislators, and while the final package added new money—now covering 44% of the funding gap vs. just 6% before—Minnesota is still a long way off from ensuring the special education services are funded appropriately and equitably.
A similar story played out in the area of English Learner funding, where until this session, there had not been a significant funding increase in twenty years. The final bill raises the per EL pupil amount from the previously stagnant $704 to $1,228. Unfortunately, it stopped short of tying this funding stream to the general formula, which would have ensured that this vital funding stream would not go another generation without increases.
Finally the legislature grappled with the primary tool Minnesota uses to equitably resource schools serving students in poverty: compensatory revenue. With universal meals becoming a reality, a future where this additional need-based funding for students won’t be tied to a piece of paper completed by families to verify meal eligibility became much more likely. Did the legislature decide how to handle this? Not exactly! There were some changes to compensatory revenue, but not a full reform of the system. One strong change: the percentage of that must stay at the school the student attends increased from 50% to 80%. And, the bill streamlined its uses and improved transparency and reporting. Legislators decided to take another year to grapple with how to accurately and fairly identify students who qualify for additional school funding, however, asking the department of education to develop a report on whether meal forms can be eliminated for the compensatory count.
Any bill that passes the legislature is just a moment in time, any one policy contained in a 300+ page K12 bill is often the result of years of advocacy from students and families with steps forward and backward, and compromises aplenty. This year’s education bill provided significant new resources in many critical areas of need and updated and created new policies, all with the promise of improving student outcomes and narrowing gaps. We’ll be watching and working to make sure these changes meet their potential so that all students can have access to the rigorous and engaging education they deserve.
Stay tuned as we continue to unpack other areas of the K-12 bill like progress on ethnic studies, an expansion of eligibility for substitute teachers, free college tuition, and more!