Capitol Update: What’s Happening with Teacher Licensure, Early Learning, & More
By Josh Crosson
Since the 2017 state legislative kicked off in January, EdAllies has been working to ensure that state legislators do what’s best for students. We have been working with community stakeholders to advance legislation that would prioritize resources for our most underserved students, provide training and support to educators, and transform schools to be more rigorous and engaging. With just about a month left in session, we want to update you on our top priorities at the Capitol.
Educators deserve a fair, clear path to the Minnesota classrooms that need them. Partnering with teachers and schools, EdAllies is working to create that path by fixing what the nonpartisan Office of the Legislative Auditor called a “broken” teacher licensure system. Based on recommendations from the OLA and a bipartisan legislative study group, House and Senate policymakers have advanced provisions to:
- consolidate Minnesota’s two licensure agencies into one professional education standards board; and
- replace the state’s current, and confusing, types of licenses—variance, initial, standard, temporary, community expert, and limited—with a straightforward tiered licensure structure, ranging from tier one (for those who have little to no formal training) to tier four (for fully trained educators with years of teaching experience).
Although the Senate and House must work through minor discrepancies in their respective bills, it is safe to say that, this session, we will finally streamline teacher licensure to help experienced, passionate educators find a place in Minnesota classrooms.
In 2016, advocates on the EdAllies team partnered with Sen. Susan Kent, Rep. Rena Moran, and community stakeholders, including the Minnesota Council on Latino Affairs and the Coalition of Asian American Leaders, to pass the nation’s most comprehensive student data disaggregation legislation. By requiring the state to disaggregate and cross-tabulate student data using prominent racial and ethnic categories, the All Kids Count Act calls for detailed, actionable data we can use to build on students’ strengths and target specific needs. This year, partnering with the Minnesota Department of Education and school districts, we’re working to strengthen the law, ensuring that key student groups are included and clarifying the implementation timeline and requirements to guarantee smooth implementation across the state. The new and improved All Kids Count Act is in both the House and Senate education bills and should soon reach the Governor’s desk.
ALTERNATIVE TEACHER PREPARATION
As the needs of our students and schools change, so must our approach to preparing new educators. Between Minnesota’s growing teacher shortages and stagnant educator diversity, and mounting evidence that alternative and unconventional teacher preparation can uniquely train diverse and effective educators, it’s time for Minnesota to finally invest in innovative models for teacher preparation. Rep. Kelly Fenton and Sen. Paul Utke proposed legislation to fund an alternative teacher preparation grant that would support innovative homegrown training models and help nationally renowned programs take root in Minnesota. By helping promising alternative teacher preparation programs expand or get off the ground, this grant would attract more—and more diverse—educators into Minnesota classrooms. Funding for this grant was included in the House education bill, but not the Senate, meaning that the two chambers must negotiate this in the coming weeks.
Despite mounting evidence on the inefficacy of exclusionary discipline and growing concern among disproportionately impacted communities, school removals are on the rise in Minnesota: From 2014-15 to 2015-16, there was an 11 percent increase in suspensions, exclusions, and expulsions, many of which were for non-violent, vague reasons like “disruptive” behavior. In partnership with the statewide Solutions Not Suspensions coalition, EdAllies has been advocating for the Student Inclusion and Engagement Act—a comprehensive bill that would require schools to find alternatives to dismissals, improve behavior long-term, and continue to provide students their constitutional right to an education. The bill would also establish more detailed data on school dismissals, require schools to develop reengagement plans for dismissed students, invest in educator training on alternatives, and more. Introduced this session by Rep. Carlos Mariani and Sen. Susan Kent, SIEA was unfortunately not heard in either chamber. EdAllies and our partners will continue to advocate for improvements to school discipline policies and practices that keep students in—and engaged in—school.
Across party lines, Minnesotans support investing in our youngest learners. The ultimate question is not if but how to make these investments. Gov. Mark Dayton’s preferred proposal, Voluntary Pre-K, in practice preferences funding early learning through school-based programs. In its first year, the program did not lead to a dramatic increase in the number of young Minnesotans served. Meanwhile, the education chairs in the House have called for prioritizing resources to low-income children through parent-directed early learning scholarships. The debate between these two methods will undoubtedly play out until the last moments of the legislative session. Aligned with our goals of putting underserved students first, expanding high-quality programing, and honoring family choice, EdAllies supports the scholarship approach. Additionally, we support better coordination among the various funding streams for early learning, as well as provisions in the House that would make School Readiness funding—additional early learning funding for district public schools only—available to children in both district and charter public schools.
In 2015, President Obama and Congress reauthorized our federal education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), requiring states to develop school accountability plans that include: reading and math proficiency based on state-level assessments, graduation rates, English language achievement, and at least one other school quality indicator determined by the state. Both the House and Senate education bills would require MDE to submit their accountability plan to the Legislature before sending it off to the U.S. Department of Education. The House education bill goes a few steps further, calling on the accountability plan to align with Minnesota’s World’s Best Workforce system and measure certain specified indicators, and tying funding consequences to violation of the ESSA provision requiring a 95 percent participation rate in standards-based assessments.
Families, educators, and policymakers need objective data on how schools are doing: Parents need data to make informed decisions about their child’s education; educators need data to inform and improve their practice; and policymakers need data to target support to the schools, districts, and student groups with the greatest need. EdAllies strongly supports efforts that defend objective data and make it more accessible to families, educators, and the public. One such effort came from Rep. Roz Peterson, who introduced a bill to replace Minnesota’s non-intuitive school rating system—with categories such as priority, focus, continuous improvement, celebration-eligible, and reward/celebration—with a simple, easy-to-understand star-rating system. Unfortunately, the legislation was not included in either Senate or House education bill. EdAllies will continue to fight for proposals to make data more transparent and actionable.
The majority of Minnesotans, including public school teachers, believe that educator performance, not seniority, should be the primary consideration in layoff decisions. However, current law sets seniority-based teacher layoffs as the state’s default policy; as a result, during layoffs, Minnesota schools base decisions solely on when teachers were hired, which can result in the loss of excellent teachers. In many districts, the most underserved students are placed with the least senior teachers, meaning that, during layoffs, these students are most impacted by turnover and the loss of less experienced yet highly effective educators. The House has advanced in their education bill a repeal of the current state default, which would empower districts and unions to negotiate local layoff policies that would consider more than just seniority. The Senate has not advanced such a repeal, though Senate Education Policy Chair, Sen. Eric Pratt, has indicated a desire to take up the issue in 2018. The House and Senate will have to debate the issue further as their education bills move to the conference committee.
TARGETED PARENT CHOICE
Minnesota has long been a pioneer in school choice and empowering families to choose the programs that best meet the needs of their children. Many families choose independent schools, and they are often an important alternative for low-income families seeking better options. For example, in North Minneapolis, Ascension Catholic School is the strongest overall academic performer in a neighborhood which is also home to some of the state’s lowest-performing schools, as measured by eighth-grade MCA scores in reading and math. However, independent schools remain much more accessible to high-income families, and state policies do little to level the playing field. To advance access to independent schools, Sen. Roger Chamberlain and Rep. Ron Kresha introduced a new Opportunity Scholarship tax-credit. It would provide a tax incentives for individuals and businesses who donate to scholarship granting organizations, which then provide tuition scholarships to students from low-and-middle income families. While supporting the goal of the bill, EdAllies is working to strengthen the proposal’s language on academic accountability and programmatic transparency. The scholarship tax credit is included in both the House and Senate tax bills, and is expected to make it to Gov. Dayton’s desk, who has been skeptical of similar proposals in the past.
Of course, there are many other education issues playing out this session, including others that we’re closely monitoring. If you have questions on any of topics above or other issues that aren’t on the list please reach out to the EdAllies team. And to easily contact your legislators on the most pressing education issues, visit the EdAllies action center.