Buckle Up! A Unique Session Ahead with High Stakes for Kids
By Matt Shaver
The 2022 legislative session is about to begin, and it’s shaping up to be a unique year. For the first time since 1962, decision-makers will head to the Capitol in a redistricting year where every legislator is up for re-election—and an incumbent governor running for a second term.1 Throw in a $7.7 billion budget surplus, dozens of legislators retiring or running for a new office, and the specter of an ongoing pandemic, and we have the makings of an unusual year. While every year is a mix of policymaking and political gamesmanship, in an election year, it’s crucial to have a keen eye for what proposals are within the realm of possibility and what will be used to fire up the political base, on both sides of the aisle.
So where will student-centered policy land in all of this? Schools are certainly a hot topic—with the potential for meaningful progress, particularly when it comes to funding, but also some threats around hot topics like critical race theory and parent choice. We’ll be there to elevate the conversation around three key themes: advancing student-centered policies that will get all kids ready for college and career, empowering historically underserved students and families, and recruiting and retaining diverse and effective educators. Here we outline the specifics on areas where we hope legislators can make bipartisan progress in what’s shaping up to be a complex year.
Prioritize Effective Literacy Instruction
Early literacy is sure to be a hot topic at the Legislature—and a critical area for action to give students the best possible foundation coming out of COVID. There is evidence about what works and what doesn’t in literacy instruction, and it’s time for Minnesota to get serious about ensuring best practices are in place across the state. In addition to ensuring effective approaches at the district and school level, educator training is a key first step. After establishing a $3 million grant to train teachers in the science of reading in 2021—and with cohorts quickly enrolled in the first rounds of training—another effort will be made to set aside resources so all teachers have access to the training.
Build a Better Approach to School Discipline
We know Minnesota has gaping disparities in school discipline. Just like kids can’t learn if they’re hungry, they can’t learn if they are not in school. We’ll be working in collaboration with the Solutions Not Suspensions coalition once again to eliminate dismissals at the K-3 level and provide all parents with power to advocate for their child at the state level if they are being unfairly treated.
Get All Students Ready for College and Career
Last fall, EdAllies released a brief on Minnesota’s glaring gaps in access to rigorous coursework—the second in a series highlighting the impact on students of color, students with disabilities, English Learners, and students from low-income families. This year we’ll work to build momentum on concrete recommendations. For example, giving students opportunities to take rigorous courses through automatic enrollment policies has shown promising, gap-reducing outcomes in several states. Given the disruption of the last few years, it will be critical to give high schoolers who demonstrate subject area proficiency efficient routes into the kinds of courses that prepare them for postsecondary learning.
Increase Diversity—and Address Teacher Shortages
The phrase “teacher shortage” is on the minds of many across Minnesota. There have been numerous local news stories describing the impact of not having enough licensed educators available to teach students both as full-time educators and substitutes. While other states work to address the shortages that have only been exacerbated by the pandemic, Minnesota has not acted. And we hope to bring a level of urgency to stabilize learning environments this session.
At the same time, long-standing needs have not gone away, and if anything, the current crisis only increases the urgency of action on teacher diversity. We’ll be tracking everything from licensure, to funding for teacher preparation—namely alternative pathways that open doors to teachers from nontraditional backgrounds—to policies for retention and growth. With another attempt to push teachers out of the classroom looming, none of us can afford to let our guard down when it comes to advocating for the diverse and effective educators our students deserve.
Put the Supplemental Budget to Work for Kids
With a multi-billion dollar state surplus, where to invest the money is likely to grab most of the headlines despite it being a “non-budget year.” Governor Walz has already come out of the gate with an ambitious spending agenda that includes a number of important E-12 investments—early learning scholarships, universal school meals, special education, rigorous coursework access, K-12 tax credits, teacher training, and more. Going forward, this will of course have to compete with DFL and GOP priorities from the legislature. We’ll advocate for a student-centered, equity-driven package to make it across the finish line.
Big Systems Change
There are a number of potential catalysts that will likely come into play during this session that could impact students and our education system.
Provide All Children with a Civil Right to Quality Public Education
No community dreams of an education that is merely “adequate” for its children, which is the bar set by the state’s current constitution. The Page Amendment and its efforts to make a quality education a right of every Minnesota child is building legislative momentum. To be placed on the ballot for Minnesotans to vote on in November, it needs passage out of the DFL-controlled House and GOP-controlled Senate. With bipartisan support and bipartisan opposition, the path forward will include much debate, from conceptual down into the legal specifics. No matter what, we need to be more ambitious for Minnesota students.
Improve Accountability and Oversight for Schools
The Office of the Legislative Auditor is completing an analysis of the role the Minnesota Department of Education plays in the achievement gap. These reports often contain insights into the inner workings of state government and areas for improvement, based on internal analysis as well as insight from dozens of stakeholder interviews. The recommendations coming from this report are likely to be turned into bills that would improve accountability and oversight for schools.
Stay tuned for updates throughout session and ways to get involved in advocating for student-centered change.
1. In case you are wondering how that governor’s race played out, we ended up with the incumbent Governor Elemer Anderson losing by 91 votes out of more than 1.2 million ballots cast after a 4-month long recount. Buckle up, indeed.