A Communication for Education Advocates in SEE Districts - March 5, 2021
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What is happening at the Capitol (via Zoom)?
Next Friday is the first committee deadline. The House plans to hear their education policy omnibus bill on Wednesday. As the Senate combined their finance and policy into one committee, it's not clear if they will have a separate policy bill for next week or combine the policy with the education finance omnibus for the April 9 deadline. 

On the federal level, Congress passed a $1.9 trillion Covid stimulus package. The Senate is expected to take it up soon. Currently, the nation's K-12 schools would receive $140 billion, over two times more than the amount in the previous Round 1 and Round 2 Covid aid combined.  The money will be distributed on a per-pupil basis so all districts can support their students and provide safe learning environments. What Congressional Covid Funding Means for K-12 Schools  / K-12 Funding Details

The Senate Education Finance and Policy Committee heard Chair Roger Chamberlain's equalization bill (SF626). The bill provides $25 million annually to reduce property taxes for low-property wealth school districts with a voter-approved operating referendum. It also lowers the cost for a referendum dollar in all low-property wealth districts, which could help districts pass future referenda. The calculation is different and interesting. It caps the local levy effort at
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a stated tax rate. For example, two districts pass a $460 per pupil referendum. In the high-property wealth district, that might be 4% of their total property wealth. However, in a low-property wealth district, it might be 7% of the district's total property wealth. The bill caps the local levy portion of up to $460 per pupil at 4%. Thus, the taxpayers in both districts pay the same amount in property taxes, but the state will pay the extra 3% for the low-property wealth district to generate the same revenue for their schools. See the SF626 property tax relief by school districts.

The House Education Finance Committee took up a bill (HF486) that continues the grant funding for teachers and school staff to take Kognito online suicide prevention training. Suicide among young people continues to rise, and the pandemic isn't helping. Sue Abderholden, the highly respected director of the National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI) Minnesota, stated that the Kognito training was simply the best suicide prevention training available, even surpassing the NAMI online training. The training has interactive scenarios where teachers learn the signs of distress in students and then learn the words and actions to intervene to support the students. MDE has more information on Kognito suicide prevention training on their website. 

This week, the House Education Policy Committee heard a bill (HF1376) that limits alternative teacher licensure pathways. The advocates of the Teachers of Color Act bill that invests heavily in recruiting and retaining Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) teachers were upset. Only five percent of Minnesota teachers are BIPOC. Yet over 20 percent of Tier 1 and Tier 2 teachers are BIPOC. SF1376 limits the time a person can hold Tier 1 and 2 licenses (except in the areas of severe teacher shortages) and removes the pathway where Tier 2 teachers can obtain a continuing Tier 3 teacher license without having to get a four-year degree from an approved teacher preparation program. I was looking for an article that describes the tension between advocates that want to address the severe teacher shortage to those who insist on tightening the requirements to only qualified teachers in the classroom. Here is an article from MinnPost. It is from two years ago, but it captures the debate still happening today. 

The detrimental impact of technology and social media has on a child's educational and emotional wellbeing is a priority for the Senate education committee. SF1012 was heard, which provides funding to the LiveMore ScreenLess organization to raise awareness and provide resources for parents, communities, schools, and young people on the dangers of excessive screen use. The bill was previously heard, but committee members expressed concern about providing taxpayer dollars to a relatively new organization.  This week's testimony focused on the integrity and experience of the two LiveMore ScreenLess co-founders. The legislature is also taking a first step in limiting access with a bill that would prohibit screen time for children in pre-K and kindergarten unless the child is directly engaged with their teacher or other students. Both the House and Senate heard this bill (SF570).  Read more.

Nationally, Black students are suspended or expelled three times more often than white students. In Minnesota, it is eight times more often. For Indigenous students, nationally, they are dismissed from school four times more often than their white peers, but it is ten times more often in Minnesota. Most of the dismissals are not for violent acts but rather more subjective actions like disruptive behavior and insubordination. There is less tolerance for similar infractions in these behaviors between students of color and their white peers. Minnesota's disparities in discipline significantly contribute to the achievement gap. When children are excluded from school, they get behind and feel like they do not belong. Thus, students who experience exclusion are much more likely to drop out of high school. The House Education Policy Committee heard Chair Ruth Richardson's bill (HF951), which prohibits suspension or expulsion of children in kindergarten through third grade unless nonexclusionary supports have been exhausted or the child is an ongoing serious safety threat to themself or others. Read more.

As always, check out Brad's Blog for more detailed information.
If you have any questions or comments, please don't hesitate to contact me.

Deb Griffiths
Schools for Equity in Education
Director of Communications and Community Outreach
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