A Communication for Education Advocates in SEE Districts - February 26, 2021
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What is happening at the Capitol (via Zoom)?
Minnesota's economy performed better than expected. In the February forecast released today, Minnesota's $1.3 billion deficit for the next two years turned around to a $1.6 billion surplus. The House and Senate use the February forecast to craft their 2-year budget proposals, which must be completed by April 9.

The House education policy committee heard a highly informative presentation on Minnesota Agriculture in the Classroom program and other resources for schools to introduce or immerse students in the field. Agriculture is not only about farming. The agriculture industry in Minnesota is large and diverse. The job market in the agriculture sector is growing with many high-paying jobs. The agriculture programs aim to expose students to the available opportunities.

On Monday, the U.S. Department of Education confirmed that states must administer statewide assessments. Still, some flexibility is offered, such as using shorter versions of the tests and pushing out the window when students take the assessments to the summer or even fall. MDE would still need to apply for a waiver to utilize this flexibility. Read More.

The Senate education committee heard SF628, which requires the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) to administer the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments (MCAs) this spring, regardless if students are in-school or learning remotely. MDE noted that remote testing is not statistically valid as rigid control of the assessment environment is impossible, and test results could not be added to in-school results. The Senate Republicans feel it is essential for teachers and parents to know where their
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students are academically after the interruption of their education due to Covid-19. However, schools will likely continue to rely on formative assessments like MAP, NWEA, and FAST. Unlike the MCAs, the results are immediate, with specific information on each student so the classroom teacher can tailor instruction to meet all their students' needs. 

The Governor's education policy bill (HF950) is said to ensure students have equitable access to safe and supportive schools. It was met with mixed reactions when heard in the House education policy committee. Some committee members expressed it has gone too far with unfunded mandates, and others feeling it hasn't gone far enough with meaningful reform. Read more and see a list of proposed policy provisions

The LETRS literacy professional development bill (HF228), was heard in the House education committee this week. Its companion bill was previously heard in the Senate. Several high-quality, research-based, and data-driven literacy programs exist, and legislation typically does not specify specific vendors. However, MDE is in the middle of a LETRS pilot program. MDE has several literacy specialists trained in LETRS. Over the past two years, the specialists trained 359 Minnesota educators in the first series of LETRS, with 68 teachers completing the full training. MDE provided a progress report of the LETRS pilot at the end of this committee document packet. The additional funding in HF228 would expand the number of educators trained in LETRS, who then can become the trainer for their fellow teachers in their home districts.   

On Wednesday, the Senate education committee heard a suite of bills intended to increase teachers of color in our schools to benefit all students but particularly students of color, and help close the achievement gap. Some questioned the intent of SF781, which interferes with long-established teacher union's protocols. Although controversial, the bill would allow more teachers with a Tier 1 or Tier 2 license to stay in the classroom. Over thirty percent of Minnesota students are of color. In contrast, the percentage of teachers of color has slowly crept up from 3% to 5% over the past five years. However, most of these teachers hold Tier 1 and Tier 2 licenses. Two teachers of color in the lower tiers were recently recognized as Teacher of the Year but lost their jobs due to budget cuts. SF781 would eliminate the requirement for districts to post a teacher position and try to find a Tier 2, 3, or 4 teacher before hiring a Tier 1 teacher. Also, the bill requires districts to not give preferential treatment based on a teacher's seniority in hiring or dismissing a teacher. 

Both education finance chairs in the House and Senate support increasing teachers of color. The House is probably leaning towards the Teacher of Color Act 2021 (HF217). The bill is the most aggressive and expensive and funds numerous pathways to recruit and retain teachers of color. SF526, which caught the Senate education chair's attention, would provide a $750,000 grant to the Black Men Teach organization. Black Men Teach utilizes public/private partnerships. The organization has a framework and goal to recruit and mentor 30 to 50 new black male teachers within five years. The new teachers will serve in eight Twin Cities schools to raise the percentage of teachers of color to 20% in each school. Eventually, the organization could be a pipeline to place black male teachers across the state.  

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
612-309-0089
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