March 20, 2020

MN Education Policy in the Time of COVID-19

By Josh Crosson

Just over a month ago, policymakers began the 2020 legislative session eager to advance a range of legislative priorities. Now, as Minnesota and the nation respond to COVID-19, priorities at the Legislature have changed. 

Before going on a hiatus, Minnesota’s legislative leaders made space to prioritize critical response efforts related to the Peacetime Emergency declared by Governor Walz. On their return, the Legislature will scale back operations at the Capitol significantly. The Legislature is only expected to focus its efforts on COVID-19 and a few other essential measures, such as bonding funding and otherwise noncontroversial policies. Both the House and Senate agreed to come back on April 14, but some leaders are pushing for the Legislature to come back earlier.

Committees, including the education committees, have canceled meetings and policymakers are all but putting an end to the legislative session. The Governor and legislative leaders have ensured the public that the state’s business will be conducted as openly and transparently as possible. Because this will likely still be through virtual means, we will monitor any signs of policymaking related to education and will make sure stakeholders are kept in the loop to weigh in. Our long-term priorities—like improving school quality, allowing educators to keep their licenses, and funding for innovative alternative teacher preparation programs—have quickly been put on the backburner and the EdAllies team has shifted its focus (at least in the short term) to fighting for a just and equitable education system for all kids, especially our most underserved, in this new universe of closed schools and distance learning.

What’s Next

EdAllies is working with the Minnesota Department of Education, the Legislature, and the Governor to meet the critical needs of our students, teachers, families, and communities. Gov. Walz issued Executive Order 20-02, providing immediate guidance for schools. In his executive order, Gov. Walz closed schools from Wednesday, March 18 to Friday, March 27, designating this time for schools to create distance learning plans that educators can use to help students and families continue learning. We expect the Governor to close schools beyond March 27, and we are working with policymakers to guarantee that whatever plan we implement going forward serves the needs of all students—especially our most underserved. In addition, the Minnesota Department of Education issued guidance on distance learning and other district-level policies. We are working to understand how this is playing out in communities, and how it compares to promising models across the country.

The Legislature will likely reconvene to address the immediate concerns regarding COVID-19. In theory, policies moving forward should be nonpartisan and should address the direct fallout from the virus outbreak. Because the Capitol is closed to a majority of in-person public activity, it’s crucial for students, parents, educators, and stakeholders to continue to share their valuable perspectives that can help shape the state’s public education system in response to COVID-19 (we share more on how to do this below).  

While many things are still unclear, as we get more updates, we will work to keep you informed through our blogs, newsletters, research, and social media. Our goal remains the same: Minnesota must provide an excellent education to each and every student, especially our most underserved. We are eager to hear about your experiences and perspectives to help us and policymakers think about what public education looks like in times of crisis and how we can deliver it while keeping everyone healthy and safe. 

Have Questions? Need Resources? Want to Share your Ideas?

Government agencies are moving fast and all hands are on deck, which can make it hard to know how to speak out. Here are a few key contacts that can help you get your needs met and field emerging questions and concerns.

  • The Minnesota Department of Education has created a general contact email for COVID-19-related issues. This is monitored by the executive team, meaning your voice will be heard by decision-makers: COVID-19.Questions.MDE@state.mn.us.
  • Legislators are actively monitoring constituent concerns and are working to respond in real-time. Find your legislator here.
  • If you have specific questions about resources available to you and your family, or about how virtual learning will be supported for your student, the best source will be the school or district where your child attends. Plans are being implemented differently in every community.
  • You can also help the EdAllies team understand the experiences of educators, parents, and students in these unprecedented times. Please reach out to Michelle Koffa if you have an experience or concern you’d like to share.