April 26, 2024

Conference Committees Tackle Final Details on K-12 Bills. Will Key Provisions Get Across the Finish Line?

By Madie Spartz

As the end of the legislative session approaches, lawmakers head into one of the final steps in the legislative process: conference committee. In a conference committee, lawmakers from both chambers (House and Senate) meet to iron out the differences in their omnibus education bills. This year has gotten complicated due to Sen. Mitchell’s uncertain future. While the education policy omnibus bills were able to move through each body last week and get into the conference committee process, the finance omnibus bill is currently stuck in limbo—needing to pass the House and the currently-on-pause Senate before conference can begin. 

Could this become another “do nothing” year a la 2022, or will the process move along? If they can get to the work of passing bills, here’s what we’re watching.

Education Policy Omnibus

After a big year last year, 2024’s policy bills are relatively light, leaving just a few notable items for the group of 3 Senators and 3 Representatives appointed to the conference committee to hash out. 

The biggest thing we’ve been watching is a proposal to delay public reporting of MCA test scores to December 1, three months later than the current September 1 deadline that aligns with the start of the school year—allowing for meaningful analysis and responsiveness. After significant community push-back, not only did the House adopt language allowing families access to their student’s data even before the full public release, but the conference committee took up an amendment to the underlying date change. The Minnesota Department of Education modified their proposal to keep the September 1 date in most years, carving out a more narrow exception to address new English Learner accountability requirements. Nothing is a done deal until the bill is signed, but we are very hopeful this issue will be settled favorably.

In addition, we are tracking a few key differences between the House and Senate bills, including:

  • Adding a 9th grade on-track indicator and data on rigorous coursework access to the World’s Best Workforce, as featured in the House bill. Research shows progress in 9th grade is highly predictive of high school graduation. By adding this metric to our state’s accountability framework, we can better equip school staff and families to monitor student progress and intervene when students risk falling behind.
  • Changes to PSEO policy in the House bill add protections for participating students to ensure their academic achievements are accurately reflected and they can still participate in the full range of activities at their high school
  • The student safety policy in the Senate bill that requires schools to notify families when their child has an unplanned removal from class.
  • The changes to Tier 1 and 2 special education licensure. Earlier this year, the federal Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) requested changes to Minnesota licensure policy to ensure students have highly trained teachers—namely, that educators advance from a Tier 1 license within three years. Both bills address this, but also add confusing language that wasn’t required—written in a way that is likely to introduce subjectivity and confusion in licensing. The House made some changes to clean up the language that we hope gets across the finish line.
Education Finance Omnibus

There’s not much money to go around this year, so what funding is available is a hot commodity. Both bills make their largest investments in the Read Act, supplementing what was invested last year to make sure implementation is a success. Other top items include addressing chronic absenteeism and paid student teaching. 

Some differences between the bills that we’ll be watching closely include:

  • Advancing solutions to address chronic absenteeism. Both omnibus bills offer much-needed funding to  improve attendance statewide. Each bill takes a different approach, with elements that could be combined to create the strongest outcome. The House’s Student Attendance Pilot Program is collaborative across districts and data-focused, which is critical in ensuring lessons from the pilot are applied statewide in future years. The Senate bill takes a more decentralized approach, the upside of which is access across a larger number of districts. Most importantly, however, the House includes a provision to create a statewide working group to monitor and make more strategic policy decisions in the future. Ensuring this work group happens is critical to addressing this issue in the long term.
  • Investing in student teacher stipends. The House bill includes investment in paid student teaching, which has the power to bring more qualified and diverse candidates into the field. The policy names 9 universities whose students would be eligible for a stipend during their student teaching experience, which is typically 12 weeks of unpaid work. Combined with regular tuition and fees that students are still expected to pay, student teaching can be a huge barrier for aspiring teachers. We believe the bill could be strengthened by adding one private college and one alternative preparation program to the list of approved programs to ensure a broader and more diverse pool of aspiring teachers can access the program. Ultimately, we believe that with limited funds, equity and support for underrepresented teachers should be at the center—and that investing in this area should be a priority.
  • Providing additional funding for the Read Act. Both chambers’ include stipends for teacher training and professional development reimbursement, ensuring that all educators are supported in implementing evidence-based literacy instruction. What’s missing, however, is including Read Act-approved curriculum in the acceptable uses of literacy incentive aid. Without incentivizing districts to use evidence-based curriculum, we risk leaving teachers without the necessary tools to implement the skills they gain in the professional development outlined in the Read Act. With active conversations about improving the Read Act still ongoing, we hope curriculum adoption can be part of the conversation.
What’s Next

These policies have the potential to positively impact students, teachers, and families across the state, but if gridlock in the Senate persists, we risk a year where no meaningful education policy is passed other than the legalization of prone restraint in schools. Since it’s not a budget year, lawmakers are not obligated to pass any legislation– so it’s well within the realm of possibility that nothing in these bills become law. That would have disastrous consequences: no funding to address the growing chronic absenteeism crisis, no stipends for student teachers, and no improvements to the Read Act. The stakes are high and Minnesota kids are counting on lawmakers to get their work done.

April 2024 Research Rundown

Read More

March 2024 Research Rundown

Read More