A Communication for Education Advocates in SEE Districts - March 12, 2021
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What is happening at the Capitol (via Zoom)?
On Wednesday, the House education policy omnibus bill (HF1081) was heard in committee. The bill is long and contains many new policy provisions as well as unfunded mandates. Read more. This bill will be folded into the House education finance omnibus bill. I expect Education Finance Chair Jim Davie to provide some funding then. Over half of the House education policy provisions are also in the Governor's policy bill. It will be interesting how hard they will negotiate with the Senate to get these provisions into the final education omnibus bill. 

Most of the bill contains many of the provisions from the following three bills. (The "Read More" articles are from the House Session Daily, and if you scroll down, you will see bullet points with notable provisions.) 

  • The Governor's education policy bill (HF950 summary) – primarily establishes nonexclusionary discipline practices before removing a student from school and adds requirements throughout the process. Also, it includes some of the school environment and teacher provision in the two bills below. Read more.
  • The Increase Teachers of Color Act (HF217 summary) – establishes grants and programs
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  • to recruit and retain teachers of color.  Also, it contains efforts to make the school environment more inclusive and culturally responsive. Read more
  • The Professional Educators Licensing and Standard Board (PELSB) bill (HF1376 summary) changes the new tiered teacher licensing system. It also tightens pathways to move up the tiered system to acquiring a teaching degree or using the portfolio process. Although it limits the number of times a Tier 1 and Tier 2 teacher can renew their license, it does carve out exceptions for CTE courses, world languages and culture, and art. Read more.

Other notable provisions in HF1081:
  • Requires paid professional development for paraprofessionals working with special education students.
  • Allows teacher bargaining units to negotiate class size, student testing, and staffing ratios.
  • Adds student performance measures in a district's World's Best Workforce (WBWF) plan to include (1) student participation in honors or gifted and talented programming and (2) students on track for graduation by tracking student's academic success in 9th grade. Begins in the 2023-2024 school year.
  • Increases courses required to graduate and requires specific courses to be taught in 11th or 12 grades. 
  • Delays reviews, revisions, and implementation of revised academic standards.

Leadership will release budget targets in the next week or two, so each committee chair knows how much they have to spend when they pull together their finance bills. Governor Tim Walz dedicated $725 million to E-12 education. The House will probably come in close to that, and the Senate will come in relatively low. School districts need at least 2% increases to the basic formula over each of the next two years to maintain stability. However, the costs for the 2% increases is almost $400 million. The House and Senate are eyeing the latest federal Covid stimulus funding implications on school districts' budgets. One-time federal aid cannot sustain ongoing staffing and programming in our schools. The basic formula is the critical funding stream to maintain operations. When adjusted for inflation, Minnesota spends $1,200 less per pupil on the students in the classroom today than the students in 1992. Yet, the cost of increased academic standards and mandates has only steadily grown. Now is not time to let this disparity grow. 

In a new twist on vouchers, Senator Roger Chamberlain, chair of the Senate education committee, brought SF1525 to the committee. The bill creates education savings accounts (ESA) that allow funding to follow the student to private, including religious, schools, and a host of other options such as hiring tutors or college courses for high schoolers. The only student requirement is that the student lives in Minnesota and has spent the previous semester at a public school. The aid that follows the student is the general education aid in their home district and the cost of the special education services given to the student in the previous semester. The state average for general education aid is approximately $10,000 per pupil. This bill aims to give children and families more choices to fit the needs of the individual student. The testifiers were parents and students, where the students are children of color, in need of special education services, or lower-income families. The family's public school experience was tragically sad, and they are desperately looking for other options. However, the ESAs are not limited to a student in these marginalized communities. Legal challenges in the Arizona ESA program required all students have access to the state's ESAs. There is little accountability in SF1525 to assure students are academically successful. Sen. Chamberlain assured the committee that there was no significant impact on the general fund in states where the program was already in place. However, would a family be tempted to put their child in a public school for one semester to have $10,000 a year for private options for the rest of the student's K-12 education? Here is the testimony from the Institute of Justice that defends the constitutionality of the ESA bill. Nevertheless, the state has a constitutional obligation to fund public schools, and that is where the focus must lie.  

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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