The Education Conference Report is Out: Here’s What You Need to Know
By Josh Crosson
For the past week, a legislative conference committee has been working to reconcile the differences between education bills that the House and Senate recently passed. Just yesterday, the conference committee released its report on education—which will be plugged into one massive bill representing the Legislature’s compromises on education policy and finance, along with dozens of other non-education-related issues. While there are many questions to resolve before session ends on Monday, the compromises in Senate File 3656 include a lot of good news for Minnesota students and schools. Although there’s much more in the bill, from a special education legislative work group to dyslexia screening to school finance transparency, below is a recap of provisions on the issues we at EdAllies have been watching most closely.
After an important overhaul passed in 2017, Minnesota’s new tiered teacher licensure system is set to go into effect on July 1, 2018. However, the Professional Educator Licensing and Standards Board, which has been charged with implementation, has asked for more time to create rules and get the system up and running. Both the House and Senate offered approaches to give PELSB a bit more time, and the conference committee pulled from each chamber’s proposal.
- How conferees resolved it: SF 3656 delays PELSB’s rule deadline by two months—to Sept. 1, 2018—yet also establishes default rules should PELSB not meet this deadline. This fair proposal balances PELSB’s request for additional time with many educators’ pleas for implementation of the new tiered teacher licensure system to take place as soon as possible.
SUMMATIVE SCHOOL RATINGS
Throughout session, both chambers have considered whether, and how, to create school performance ratings to help families understand how schools are serving students overall. Such ratings would complement a more detailed data dashboard where families can dig in deeper, and also have Minnesota join over 40 other states that have created straightforward ratings for families and the public. While legislators heard powerful testimony from parents calling for greater school performance transparency, they also worked throughout session to resolve some concerns about the details of various proposals.
- How conferees resolved it: The conference committee agreed to a solid compromise: SF 3656 establishes a transparent school rating system, yet grants the Minnesota Department of Education the full authority to build out the best indicators to summarize school and district performance. This proposal addresses many concerns that critics of earlier proposals raised (such as calling for robust indicators that adequately summarize student and family experiences and needs), while creating the ratings that many families testified they need.
This year, the Senate prioritized improving school dismissal policies to make the process fairer for students and families. The House, Senate, and governor advanced proposals to make many meaningful, commonsense changes to improve student behavior, family engagement, and school climate long-term.
- How conferees resolved it: Ultimately, the conference committee took the strongest proposals from the Senate and incorporating much of the governor’s requests, as well. SF 3656 will require schools to: notify families after any dismissal or seclusion, provide basic due process for students before, during, and after a dismissal, create re-engagement plans after a student dismissal, and more.
During the 2018 session, both chambers faced—and, ultimately, defeated—efforts to repeal the All Kids Count Act, only advancing minor technical changes. The All Kids Count Act is still on track to disaggregate student achievement data by race, ethnicity, and other factors this fall in a few schools and districts, then statewide the following year. The resulting data should give policymakers and educators more detailed, actionable data to learn what’s working well for historically underserved student groups, and to target supports to those with the greatest unmet needs.
- How conferees resolved it: This was not a significant issue in conference committee. They ultimately advanced small technical fixes intended to make the law even stronger.
A majority of Minnesota educators see the value of Minnesota’s standards-based assessments but want more timely results to make the most of them and inform classroom instruction. Meanwhile, families could also use faster results so that they know how their children are doing, and where they might need more support. This year, the House proposed steps to improve MCA administration so that both families and educators can make the most of the results.
- How conferees resolved it: SF 3656 adopted the House language to improve testing, requiring that schools administer the assessment as late as possible in the year, that families receive results within 30 days of administration, and that educators receive results before the start of the following school year.
Although SF 3656 does not make any changes to school funding—it neither scales back nor adds to the 2 percent formula increase the Legislature passed during the 2017 budget year—it’s worth mentioning the unresolved debate that has made the spotlight during our education negotiations. Near the end of session, Gov. Dayton presented his lead policy priority: an additional 2 percent increase, or $138 million, in “emergency school funding” for 2018. Legislative leadership countered by saying that the governor’s proposal is a short-term solution to what has been a perennial budget problem. As school funding appears to be Gov. Dayton’s top priority, we expect this ongoing disagreement between the two bodies to be a major sticking point in the final days of session. At EdAllies, while we support more resources for schools such as the emergency aid package, we also believe that significant investments should be made transparently and equitably, with comprehensive structural changes to school financing that ensures funding is targeted towards historically underserved students.
We’ll continue to unpack and report out on final negotiations the coming days and weeks, particularly as we learn more about how talks are (or are not) advancing between the Legislature and Gov. Dayton.