June 18, 2020

Flurry of Activity on Education During Special Session

By Michelle Koffa

Legislators came into special session last Friday with numerous priorities, hopes to advance several education policies that didn’t pass in 2020 regular session, and new racial equity priorities. But it’s still unclear whether legislators will meet the call to urgent action to provide for students from historically underserved communities, dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline, empower families, and recruit and retain high-quality and diverse educators, or get bogged down in politics as usual. 

Here are some of the policies that are moving, as well as what we hear might still be introduced. 

Ending Dismissals for our Youngest Learners 

One of the proposals we’re watching closely is the elimination of suspensions for 3- and 4-year-olds, only allowing expulsions under rare circumstances after other disciplinary interventions have been exhausted. Our youngest learners are over three times more likely to be dismissed than K-12 students, and a disproportionate number are students of color and Native American. There are several bills with language on this issue, including HF33 and SF26, which have bipartisan support in the House and Senate. We expect the House and the Senate to consider this legislation soon. (And legislators still need to know that you support banning the practice of suspending and expelling preschoolers.) This bill is an important first step to prevent our youngest learners from entering the school-to-prison pipeline. 
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Reforming K-12 Exclusionary Discipline Practices 

Building on the work advocates have been doing for years, bills in the House and Senate (HF36/SF25) would require schools to use nonexclusionary discipline practices before removing a student from the classroom, expand notification rights of parents whose students were suspended, and clarify grounds for dismissals. Earlier this week the House Education Policy Committee heard this bill and took action to move it to the House floor. We have yet to see action from the Senate on it. 

Closing the Digital Divide 

There is bipartisan support in the House and Senate (HF35/SF6) to ensure that every child can access and engage in distance learning by ensuring internet access. Given that about 17% of Minnesota students—mostly from low-income and rural communities—did not have access to reliable internet when COVID-19 hit, this state investment would be crucial in closing the digital divide. The House and Senate have each passed bills to invest in internet access for students. With strong bipartisan support, there’s a good chance this legislation will pass into law over the next few days.  

Eliminating Lunch Shaming

All students deserve to have a meal at school without being shamed or punished for having debt. During the regular session, legislators expressed bipartisan support but weren’t able to get these needed changes across the finish line. The House and the Senate reintroduced language HF18/SF132 to require schools to provide meals to students in a respectful manner and keep all communication about school lunch debt between school staff and a student’s parent or guardian. There’s bipartisan support for this proposal in the House, but it’s still unclear if the Senate will prioritize this legislation.  

Policies We’re Watching

From conversations with stakeholders and legislators, there are many more issues where conversation is brewing, and additional bills could be introduced in the coming days. We will be tracking legislation that could address the following: 

  • Protecting teachers of color during layoffs,
  • Increasing equitable access to rigorous coursework, 
  • Strengthening the state’s charter accountability framework, 
  • Expanding school choice opportunities, and
  • Recruiting more teachers of color. 
What’s Next

Stay tuned for more updates in the coming days: special session could end as soon as Friday, or carry on into next week. The governor could also call the Legislature back into a second or even third special session if he believes more work should be done for the year.  

Once things are wrapped, we’re eager to share final updates at our 2020 Session Recap Webinar on Wednesday, July 8 at 12pm. Our policy team will walk through what was accomplished during this legislative session and lay the groundwork for what to anticipate as we prepare for 2021. Register here for the Session Recap Webinar.