May 31, 2018

What Education Proposals Landed on the Governor’s Cutting Room Floor (and Why)

By Josh Crosson

As the 2018 legislative session was winding down, I reported out on key provisions that the Legislature had proposed to advance education justice for Minnesota’s most underserved students. But last week, Gov. Dayton vetoed these provisions, which were wrapped up in a massive policy and finance bill that covered non-education issues, too. This means that nearly nothing, including important education policy change, got done this year at the Capitol.

What you might have missed during the flurry of negotiations, political gamesmanship, and partisan spin that dominated the final days of session is that the Legislature made a lot of last-minute concessions in education to accommodate the governor. And it’s not your fault you might have missed them; they made these changes on a Saturday at midnight. These changes alone were not enough to compel the governor to sign the budget and policy bill. Still, they’re worth analyzing, since they indicate what was concerning to the governor and a lower priority for legislative leaders, who has policymakers’ ears, and where we’ll need continued advocacy if we want to make progress for Minnesota students in the future.

ASSESSMENT RESULTS

A majority of Minnesota educators see the value of Minnesota’s standards-based assessments but want more timely results to maximize them and inform classroom instruction. Meanwhile, families could also use faster results to understand how their children are doing, and where they might need more support. This year, the Legislature advanced a provision to require the Minnesota Department of Education to report out assessment results to schools and families well before the start of the next school year. Currently, results come out in late fall, making them less useful than they could be.

But, in response to concerns from Gov. Dayton, the Legislature stripped out this commonsense provision. As this proposal went through the committee, MDE was the only group to publicly express concerns.

STATE ACADEMIC STANDARDS

Minnesota’s educators and policymakers have worked to develop a set of academic standards that every school must teach and every student should comprehend. While we test our standards in math, reading, and science somewhat regularly, we don’t test other subjects, like social studies, the arts, and writing in a consistent, standardized way. This year, the Legislature included a provision to require MDE to review three to five schools to see how, or if, their curriculum aligns to state standards, and report back its findings to the public. This would have been an important first step to understand how schools are, or are not, living up to all the standards our state has set.

Yet, in response to a request from Gov. Dayton, the Legislature removed this proposal. Because there were no hearings on this specific policy, I suspect—though can’t confirm—that MDE, which would have been required to manage the curriculum screenings without additional funding, opposed it behind the scenes.

POST-SECONDARY ENROLLMENT OPTIONS

PSEO gives students the chance to take college courses while earning both college and high school credit, all for free. Not only can PSEO be a financial benefit to students and families, it also has the power to advance student learning and increase high school and college graduation rates.

Per the governor’s request, the Legislature added a provision to its bill that could have helped expand PSEO. Specifically, the governor asked that any accreditation organization recognized by MDE—not just the one currently allowed under state law—be able to grant “opportunities industrialization centers” eligibility as PSEO institutions.

DYSLEXIA SCREENINGS

Parents, students, and the advocacy organization Decoding Dyslexia have been pushing the state to screen for dyslexia in schools and dedicate the necessary resources to effectively support students with this learning disability. Ultimately, the Legislature adopted a proposal to require that districts screen all students who are not reading at grade-level for dyslexia.

But during final negotiations, the governor requested that the Legislature take out these screenings—which it did. A couple school administrator advocacy groups opposed the provision, claiming that screenings would be too onerous and costly to implement.

STUDENT DISMISSAL REPORTING

Research shows that suspensions and expulsions neither improve student behavior nor give adequate education services to students. To move the state away from ineffective dismissals, the Legislature attempted to require schools and MDE to collect data and report out the types of non-exclusionary discipline schools used before dismissing a student (Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports, restorative justice practices, trauma-informed trainings, etc.), as well as attempts to provide alternative education experiences.

However, Gov. Dayton had the Legislature remove this data collection requirement, about which a couple school administrator advocacy groups and MDE had testified with concerns.

EARLY LEARNING

We know that high-quality early learning can significantly move the needle, especially for low-income learners. What we don’t know is how many Minnesota kids are ready for kindergarten by their first day. We also have no evidence that a teaching license improves the effectiveness of an early learning program. Meanwhile, requiring licensed educators for early learning would likely force many experienced, proven professionals out of the field and decrease educator diversity. This year, the Legislature attempted to require MDE to create a state kindergarten readiness assessment, which would allow us to understand which kids are kindergarten-ready and where targeted investments are most needed. The Legislature also wanted to make early learning programs without a licensed teacher on staff, including centers run by communities of color and immigrants, eligible for state funding.

But, the governor requested that the Legislature remove both of these provisions. Because the Legislature had minimal hearings on the kindergarten readiness screenings, it’s difficult to say who was publicly opposed. However, when it comes to licensure, MDE and the state teachers’ union have advocated for requiring that all early learning educators become fully licensed teachers. Meanwhile, because licensure would be a costly and time-intensive barrier for these educators—with no evidence showing that a license improves effectiveness—many early learning advocates oppose such a requirement.

LOOKING AHEAD

This year once again proved how important it is that advocates stay loud and engaged throughout the entire policymaking process, which can be difficult when so much happens in fine print and behind closed doors. This will be even more critical during the 2019 legislation session, when Minnesota will have a new Legislature and a new governor, who will bring their own priorities. Hopefully, with continued advocacy, they’ll also be open to finishing up some of the good work their predecessors started, but didn’t complete, this year.