May 22, 2024

Cutting Through the Noise: What Mattered for Kids in the 2024 Legislative Session

By Matt Shaver

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The second year of a biennium often focuses on policy tweaks and a bonding bill as legislators have a shorter session to work with and an election to attend to. This year saw a very small budget target for K-12 education and partisanship that ratcheted up by the week as session headed toward adjournment. In spite of that, EdAllies worked to cut through the noise to center student needs in both policy and funding debates. 

Where Lawmakers Took Action

Read Act 2.0: Lawmakers made several tweaks to the Read Act, and those changes received the largest share of this year’s supplemental education budget at $37 million. Early negotiations would have reserved a portion of those funds for buying approved, evidence-based reading curriculum, but the final version of the bill steps this back and puts the money toward a broader list of uses related to literacy. At the same time, it puts new funds into developing culturally competent literacy materials. The second notable change is a large pot of money to reimburse teachers for completing training required under the Read Act. Rather than pay all teachers statewide the same amount, the bill stipulates that individual districts must bargain with their teachers to agree on a reimbursement rate. This means that teachers in different districts may not be paid uniformly for completing the same training.

Chronic Absenteeism: Minnesota’s dismal attendance rates were perhaps the only thing Republicans and Democrats agreed on this session. Lawmakers created a Student Attendance Pilot Program in which 12 districts from across the state receive funding to implement new strategies to address absenteeism, meet regularly to share best practices and challenges, and prepare a public report on their goals, progress, and detailed attendance data. The bill also includes a legislative study group on attendance and a one-time grant to the Minnesota Alliance with Youth to improve attendance statewide.

Tier 1 Special Education Licenses: In response to a federal directive requiring states to ensure highly qualified special education teachers, lawmakers updated a licensure law to limit Tier 1 special education renewals to three years. The ultimate goal is to ensure these educators have the necessary support to advance in the profession, and the legislature adopted a few changes to this end. Debate centered around how to support growth without erecting new barriers, and the final language strikes a middle ground: it reiterates that districts are responsible for providing high-quality professional development and mentorship to emerging Tier 1 and Tier 2 teachers.

Paid Student Teaching: Although leadership made it clear that there was little supplementary funding this year, legislators were able to agree on funding a paid student teaching pilot program. Teacher candidates at 8 colleges and universities will be paid for their student teaching work, regardless of their income or intended licensure area. The stipend amounts will differ based on the number of students enrolled in each program, but students attending the same college will be paid the same rate. While we were advocating for increasing stipend funding for preservice teachers from underrepresented backgrounds, this pilot is still an important first step in addressing unpaid student teaching, a major barrier to the classroom for many aspiring teachers.    

Prone Restraint: Though it feels like this debate occurred years ago, it was only in March that the legislature rolled back limits on dangerous restraints in schools. This debate dominated the first half of session, but has already moved into the next stage—where the focus will be developing a statewide model policy for school resource officers. We are working with the Solutions Not Suspensions coalition to develop student-centered recommendations for a series of Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) Board-led meetings to develop the policy this summer.

Important Progress, But No Definitive Action

Universal FAFSA: The bipartisan proposal to make completion of the FAFSA a high school graduation requirement was heard in the Senate Higher Education committee and unanimously passed on to its next stop in Education Finance, where it unfortunately stalled and never received its next hearing. EdAllies is working in coalition with several other organizations to keep momentum on this issue alive, continuing to understand and address implementation questions. Data from other states shows these policies can improve college access for students of color and those from low-income families.

Automatic Enrollment: While this important policy was heard in both the House and Senate laid over for inclusion in both chambers’ omnibus bills, it did not make the cut this year—likely the victim of limited funding being pulled in many directions. Evidence shows that automatic enrollment policies increase access to rigorous coursework for students of color, low-income students, and other students underrepresented in these classes. 

Data and Reporting: EdAllies worked with Rep. Clardy (D- Inver Grove Heights) on a bill that would modify a school’s World’s Best Workforce plan (newly-renamed Comprehensive Achievement and Civic Readiness) to include a measure of 9th grade students on-track to graduate. Research shows that this indicator is critical for college and career readiness and can identify students who risk falling behind. While the policy was included in the House omnibus policy bill, the Senate did not and it was ultimately removed from the final omnibus bill. Another measure would have pushed back the public release date of Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment (MCA) scores to December 1st, raising concerns about how teachers and families could use that data to understand students’ needs before the school year begins. EdAllies, along with community partners, successfully campaigned against that change and public reporting of MCA data remains on September 1st. 

No Action

High-Dosage Tutoring: Although we remained hopeful, a low-budget year was not the optimal time for costly programs like high-dosage tutoring, despite their critical importance in closing COVID-related learning loss and other gaps in student achievement. While bills were introduced, they were never heard in committee.

Replacing Meal Forms: Before this session began, we were watching for proposed replacements for the outdated free and reduced price lunch forms that are now obsolete in Minnesota due to universal school meals. While these forms ostensibly deal with meals, they’ve served as the count for low-income families in each school and district, so Minnesota needs a new way to capture this data. No proposed fixes were introduced this session, but action is needed on this issue sooner than later. Accurate counts of students living in poverty are critical for equitable school funding, support services, and more.

Looking Forward

Even in a year with limited funds and limited energy after a major flurry of legislation in 2023, there was meaningful progress on critical issues like chronic absenteeism and literacy. Both of these issues have more work ahead, as do the several other loose ends where there was strong legislative interest but no final action. We’ll be working with partners to explore next steps on the issues above and more—including ongoing funding questions entering a budget year, from special education and English Learner cross-subsidies to literacy incentive aid and compensatory revenue—to ensure urgent, student-centered progress advances.

Want to hear a breakdown of the 2024 session on our podcast? In our end-of-session episode, we have an open discussion on the tone of the legislative session, the non-education priorities that took the focus of policymakers, details on the final version of the education omnibus bills, and what we should expect in 2025. Check out ‘Loud Noises! The Issues, Drama, and Wins in Minnesota’s 2024 Legislative Session!

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