June 24, 2021

Legislators Finally Reach a Deal on K-12 Bill. What Did (& Didn’t) Make the Cut?

By Krista Kaput

More than one month after the regular 2021 legislative session ended, legislators have reached an agreement on the K-12 education omnibus bill—which packages all of the policies and a $21 billion education budget together into one large bill. With the House controlled by the DFL and the Senate controlled by the GOP, there were a lot of items from their original omnibus bills that were left on the cutting room floor. 

And even though negotiations took place largely behind closed doors and out of the public eye, where a lot of promising policy was taken off the table, the final bill does contain several areas for celebration. Here, we give an overview of the issues we’ve been tracking and advocating for throughout the session. 

A Boost to Per Pupil Funding 

During the regular session, legislative leaders agreed to broad budget terms—allocating over $500 million in new spending for E-12 education. The big question during the special session was how this should be used. After heated debate—including over a proposal to invest in savings accounts for private school tuition—legislators ultimately agreed to invest the vast majority of new spending toward increasing the state’s per pupil formula. Next year, public schools will see a 2.45%, followed by a 2% increase the following year. Though just slightly larger than the 2% increases seen in other recent budgets, legislators and school districts are touting this as a big win after an uncertain year. 

Pathways to Licensure Will Stay in Place

Even though the House and Senate started miles apart on teacher licensure—with a number of changes in the House proposal that would have eliminated pathways that are bringing diverse teachers from a range of backgrounds into the classroom—ultimately no changes made it into the final bill. Legislators heard extensive feedback from educators, school leaders, and even students about the negative impact of the proposed roll-backs to tiered licensure. Preserving the tiered licensure system is a huge victory that ensures that Minnesota doesn’t go in the wrong direction on teacher licensure by protecting teachers of color and pathways into the classroom. 

New Guardrails for Charter Authorizer Quality 

All parents want what’s best for their kids and should have the power to choose the right school from a range of high-quality options. To ensure quality, charter schools have an extra layer of accountability through “authorizers” who review school performance and ensure they are meeting their mission. These authorizers are overseen by the Minnesota Department of Education as another measure of quality, but that oversight process has significant room for improvement. To address this issue, the final bill includes language that creates a clear timeline for authorizers on corrective action, sets guardrails for charter schools to have a better relationship with their authorizer, and raises the overall quality of charter authorizers.

Lunch Shaming Prohibitions Advance

All students deserve to have a school meal without punishment or shame. Unfortunately, lunch shaming still happens too often in Minnesota schools. The House and Senate both prioritized this issue and agreed to language that will 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. 

Mixed Progress on School Discipline

Minnesota has a long and well-documented history of disproportionately suspending and expelling students of color and students with disabilities. After a major step forward last year with a prohibition on pre-K suspensions, there was a bipartisan movement to extend this to K-3 students. Despite language on this and a host of other changes to improve discipline policy—like ensuring parent notification—the House and Senate were unable to work through their differences and failed to take any policy action. 

However, they did agree to a one-time $1.75 million allocation for grants to districts and charter schools to train their staff on nonexclusionary discipline practices. This funding is critical because there is growing evidence showing that restorative practices—inclusive and non-punitive ways to respond to conflict and build community—are one approach to reducing exclusionary practices.

Funding for Science of Reading Training 

Early literacy is a critical milestone and foundational to academic success. But too often, students are falling behind, and instruction is not aligned to what research shows works best to support learning. To help address this, the final education bill includes a major Senate priority: allocating $3 million in one-time funding to provide Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spelling Grants (LETRS) training for more than 1,200 Minnesota teachers. 

Steps Forward on Special Education

Special education remains drastically underfunded at both the federal and state level. The final agreement includes $10.5 million in one-time funding to reduce districts’ special education “cross-subsidy”—their unfunded but required cost. The bill also includes language to ensure that students with disabilities receive individualized COVID-19 recovery interventions. 

Fortunately, the final bill does not include a harmful provision that would have drastically changed the way that special education funding works for students whose families choose to send them to charter schools, which would have undermined access to effective services for students with the highest needs in our state.

Little Progress on Early Learning

The final agreement maintains funding for Voluntary Prekindergarten programs that are operated by school districts, which supports the existing 4,000 seats. However, there was no new funding for early learning scholarships—a large disappointment given the intense need for services for our youngest learners and their families coming out of the pandemic.

Funding to Diversify the Teacher Workforce 

The final bill includes several provisions—with a number of financial compromises—from the 2021 Increase Teachers of Color Act including: 

  • $10 million total for Grow Your Own Programs.
  • $400,000 for “Come Teach in Minnesota” hiring bonuses.
  • $4.5 million for mentoring and retention grants for teachers of color.
  • $2 million for the Collaborative urban and great Minnesota educators of color grants.
  • $500,000 for a teacher recruitment marketing campaign. 

However, several policy provisions—including a statewide goal to increase teachers of color—didn’t make it during final negotiations. 

What Didn’t Make the Cut? 

Unfortunately, there were also a number of items that were in either the House or Senate (and sometimes both!) omnibus bill that would have made meaningful change for students but didn’t make the final cut: 

  • College and Career Readiness Measures: Despite matching language in the House and Senate to monitor whether 9th-graders are on track to graduate—a growing, research-backed practice—the language fell through the cracks in negotiations. 
  • Compensatory Revenue: No changes were made to compensatory revenue—a $551 million pot of money that is allocated to districts based on the concentration of low-income families in their schools—despite House proposals to make the program more equitable. 
  • Increasing Access to PSEO: Legislators did not advance language from the Senate that would’ve removed barriers to postsecondary enrollment options (PSEO), including equal weighting for grades, increasing transportation access, and improving accountability for data dissemination. 
  • Expanding Access to Rigorous Coursework: $7.5 million to expand access for students of color and students in greater Minneota to rigorous coursework—Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, PSEO, and concurrent enrollment—was one of several proposed investments from the House that didn’t make the final budget
What’s Next? 

We aren’t out of the woods yet. The final bill still has to be passed by the full House and Senate, and signed by Governor Walz, before it becomes law. The House is set to debate the bill on the floor on Saturday—and this year debates have been heated, with filibusters and no shortage of conflict. In most cases though, all the smoke hasn’t led to fire, with legislators eager to ensure a budget passes before the new fiscal year starts July 1. We’ll be keeping close tabs on any final debates, and will share the final scoop at our 2021 session re-cap on July 8!

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