May 10, 2018

Conference Committee is Under Way: Where do Key Education Issues Stand?

By Josh Crosson

We’re nearing the end of another lively legislative session. In the coming weeks, the state’s senators and representatives will work through the differences between each chamber’s bills, and plan to send a final, all-encompassing bill to Gov. Dayton for his signature (or veto). At EdAllies, we’ve been tracking several important education issues to improve opportunities for Minnesota students. Below is a recap of how each chamber approached these issues, and where legislators have to work through differences.

TEACHER LICENSURE

After years of debate over how to fix Minnesota’s broken teacher licensure system, a new, straightforward tiered licensure system passed into law last year. The new agency created to implement the system—the Professional Educator Licensing and Standards Board—has until July 1, 2018 to adopt final rules. Worried they won’t be able to meet the deadline, the board asked for a year-long extension, which would delay the licensure of educators and create a significant burden for teachers and the schools seeking to hire them.

  • House bill: Implements tiered licensure on July 1, 2018 as scheduled, but with temporary rules. PELSB would need to finalize rules by Jan. 1, 2019.
  • Senate bill: Delays implementation of the new licensure system until Sept. 1, 2018.
  • Our take: Ultimately, both proposals offer a fair compromise. The advantage of the House proposal is that it would ensure teachers can obtain licenses under the new system before the 2018-19 school year begins.
SUMMATIVE SCHOOL RATINGS

School performance ratings have been a hot topic this year at the Capitol, with both chambers debating whether, and how, to create a school performance snapshot that helps families and communities understand how schools are doing. Such straightforward ratings—which have been adopted in over 40 other states—would live alongside a more detailed data dashboard, giving families a starting point to understand school performance, and then the option to dig in deeper. While some legislators and school groups voiced concerns about the ratings proposals, powerful testimony from parents sent a clear message about the need for more transparency and a frank assessment of school performance.

  • House bill: Establishes a clear and transparent school rating system that includes a 0-100 score for every school, and grants the Minnesota Department of Education the authority to build the details of the system.
  • Senate bill: No proposal to create summative ratings included.
  • Our take: Legislators should advance the House proposal, which represents a fair compromise. Act now to make sure that they do!
SCHOOL DISCIPLINE

After years of stalled debate, legislators have finally made some progress in improving school discipline practices, with both chambers advancing a range of commonsense tweaks to state policy that work to engage families and improve students’ long-term behavior.

  • House bill: Requires parent notification after a student is removed by a police officer, alternative education services for long-term suspensions, and family engagement to provide education opportunities after an expulsion.
  • Senate bill: Requires schools to notify families after any dismissal or seclusion, basic due process for students before, during, and after a dismissal, re-engagement plans after a student dismissal, and more.
  • Our take: Legislators should adopt the Senate’s more comprehensive language. Take action now.
DATA DISAGGREGATION

There were efforts in both chambers this year to repeal the All Kids Count Act—which passed with broad support in 2016. By disaggregating student achievement data by race, ethnicity, and other factors, this law will help us better understand trends and craft more equitable solutions to support Minnesota students. This year, we worked hard with community partners and legislative champions to push back and successfully defend against efforts to undermine the All Kids Count Act.

  • House bill: Data disaggregation safe.
  • Senate bill: Data disaggregation safe.
  • Our take: We’re grateful for bipartisan support to defend the All Kids Count Act, keeping it on track to roll out this fall in a few schools and districts, then statewide the following year.
MCA ADMINISTRATION

Nearly 80 percent of educators think Minnesota’s standards-based assessments are valuable to help inform instruction and improve their profession. But, educators also report that they can’t use the data to its fullest potential. This year, legislators considered policy tweaks to make test data more valuable for educators and families.

  • House bill: Moves the state’s testing window to as late as possible, and requires faster reporting of results to families (within 30 days of taking the test) and educators (before the following school year).
  • Senate bill: Makes statewide tests less useful by allowing certain schools in “innovation zones” to substitute the MCAs with other standardized tests, like the problematic ACTs.
  • Our take: We support the House’s commonsense provisions, which would improve state test administration and help educators and families maximize the results.
ACADEMIC BALANCE

One of the stranger proposals to advance this session is the “Academic Balance Bill,” which would disallow educators from requiring students to express their views, beliefs, or opinions for academic credit or as part of extracurricular activities.

  • House bill: No proposal included.
  • Senate bill: Requires districts to create an “academic balance policy.”
  • Our take: We oppose this bill, which we worry could have a chilling effect in schools. Students and teachers should engage in—not fear—thoughtful discussion that allows for multiple perspectives on tough issues like race, equity, and the sordid and celebrated moments in our nation’s history.
THE HOME STRETCH? OR JUST THE BEGINNING?

Over the last four months, we watched the House and Senate develop and promote their respective bills. Now, one eye is planted on Gov. Dayton as we watch to see what he’ll sign into law and what he will veto. In fact, the governor has indicated that any education bill that does not include additional emergency funding for schools, or that does include what he considers to be “controversial policy provisions,” could lead to a veto, and bring the Legislature back to square one. While we’re keeping our fingers crossed for a smooth process that results in a final education law that improves outcomes for students and disrupts education inequities, we’re also prepared for the worst, with foreseeable conflict heating up.

No matter what happens, we’ll keep you posted with updates and opportunities to take action for Minnesota students.