March 19, 2021

House Education Omnibus Bill: Some Good Policies with a Swing and a Miss on Teacher Licensure

By Krista Kaput

This month, the Education Policy Committee released their omnibus bill—the single bill that packages all the K-12 policies the House DFL is seeking to pass after two months of hearings. This will be complemented by an education finance bill that’s still in the works; then, both will have to be negotiated with the Senate. 

The bill, which sets the stage for what’s on the table for the remainder of the legislative session, contains several measures that would advance educational equity, like adding in measures for college and career readiness and addressing lunch shaming. However, it also has very problematic proposals that would remove pathways and take away teaching licenses from high-quality and diverse educators. 

A Couple Steps Forward, But Several Steps Backward on Teacher Licensure 

Teacher licensure has been a perennial topic, with bills introduced almost every year to amend Minnesota’s new, four-tiered teacher licensure system and take us back to old, more familiar ways of doing business that unfortunately weren’t serving schools and students. 

This year there is a new twist, with some positive proposals that would address remaining barriers, like adding in bachelor’s degree exemptions for world language and arts teachers. However, these positives were packaged with provisions that would take Minnesota in the wrong direction by removing 8 out of the 12 pathways to obtain a Tier 2 license and limiting renewals for Tier 1 teachers who are teaching in a shortage area or a teacher of color. 

The bill originally included language removing a permanent pathway to licensure based on experience and effectiveness. However, that language was amended to retain a more narrow pathway, allowing those who teach in a shortage area—which includes teachers of color—to move up to a Tier 3 license after three years on Tier 2 and a successful evaluation. On the surface, this amendment seems positive. However, because the bill still includes language removing the vast majority of the pathways to a Tier 2 licensure, the actual impact is extremely limited. You can read more about the original licensure proposal and how it would undermine teacher diversity here.

Expanding Measures for College and Career Readiness 

Minnesota has stark disparities in access to rigorous coursework, but a lack of good data to shed light on successes and areas for growth. To address this, the bill that would add new college and career readiness measures to the state’s World’s Best Workforce system:  

  • The percentage of students enrolled in AP, IB, PSEO, and concurrent enrollment,
  • The percentage of students who took the AP and IB exams, and the percentage of who passed, and 
  • The percentage of students who are on-track for graduation after 9th grade. 

The on-track measure would be a new data point that would identify if, by the end of 9th grade, a student has earned at least five credits and received no more than one failing grade a semester in a core class—reading, math, science, or social studies. Research has shown that students on-track after 9th grade are much more likely to have good grades later in high school, graduate on time, and enroll in postsecondary education. Moreover, these measures would provide real-time data that is actionable for educators and parents. 

Leadership on School Discipline 

The omnibus bill includes several provisions that would improve school climate, strengthen parental involvement, and ensure that students have due process, including: 

  • Expanding a ban on suspensions for the youngest students, passed last year for prekindergarten, and now moving up through third grade, 
  • Requiring schools use nonexclusionary discipline practices before removing a student from school and clarifying grounds for dismissal, 
  • Expanding parental notification rights for when a parent’s child is suspended, and 
  • Creating guidance for schools on restorative discipline practices. 

These are important first steps that would change Minnesota’s approach to school discipline and address the state’s disproportionate rates of suspensions for students of color and students with disabilities. 

Lunch Shaming 

To ensure all students have access to school meals without fear of shame or school punishment, language in the omnibus bill would prohibit schools from denying school meals to students when they have an outstanding balance and forbid other types of lunch shaming like bans on participating in graduation ceremonies, extracurriculars, and field trips. 

Strengthening Charter Authorizing 

Charter schools play a critical role in ensuring all families have access to school options that meet their needs, but it is essential that there are strong checks on quality within the sector. Charter authorizers add an important layer of oversight and accountability. A provision in the omnibus would take an important step forward on increasing the standards for charter authorizing, clarifying what happens when an authorizer is not doing their job effectively by establishing a “corrective action” timeline, and setting guardrails for the charter school and authorizer relationship. 

Diversifying the Teacher Workforce 

The bill contains several provisions from the 2021 Increase Teachers of Color Act, including setting a statewide goal for increasing the number of teachers of color and Indigenous teachers and requiring a biannual report on the effectiveness of state-funded programs aimed at recruiting and retaining teachers of color and American Indian teachers. 

It also contains a new proposal that would allow districts to create committees that could identify up to five percent of teachers that would be protected outside of the seniority system. The spirit of the proposal is to retain teachers of color during layoffs, though the process is complex and vulnerable to subjectivity. Legislators have also introduced more objective and direct proposals around retaining teachers of color and other teachers in shortage areas, which would provide a clear statewide standard.

What’s Next 

The 135-page bill was voted out of the Education Policy committee but has a long way to go before it becomes law. Given that the House and Senate are controlled by different parties, they will have to negotiate what will be included in the final bill through a conference committee before it’ll be sent to the Governor. 

There are still ample opportunities for parents, educators, students, and advocates to provide feedback on this bill. To share your thoughts about what you like and dislike, you can take action and/or reach out to your local legislators