Update for April 1, 2016: It’s Coming Together

Unknown-1If this is your first Update, welcome! If you have been with us for many years, thank you.

One of the most important functions of these Updates is to share current legislative activities regarding potential policy making with parents across Minnesota. While we have a diverse and far reaching database, we are always looking to broaden the number of people “in the know.” Please share our Update with friends whom you believe will benefit from the information!

At the Capitol

The Senate and House Education Policy bills were released this week with few surprises. Being Policy Omnibus bills, they are an amalgam of many bills heard this session that have no fiscal impact to the state (which doesn’t necessarily mean they won’t cost money to districts).

Both bills accepted the Minnesota Department of Education’s technical provisions to remove obsolete language from Minnesota‘s statutes that referred to the federal No Child Left Behind bill reauthorized last fall, as well as changes that align current state World’s Best Workforce (WBWF) statutes with new federal requirements in the Every Student Succeeds Act. One requirement is ensuring that poor and minority children are not taught at higher rates than other children by inexperienced, ineffective or out- of- field teachers. In the House bill, Chair Erickson (R-Princeton) added a provision that classifies WBWF data gathered by the department as nonpublic data, until it is publicly released.

Among technical changes from Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) were several provisions that impact Gifted and Talented Students (G & T). WBWF plans will need to include a process to access, identify and accelerate the learning of G & T students; adopt early admission procedures and guidelines for students, including early learners, to participate in Minnesota’s G & T programs.

Both bills also provide charter school provisions that make it less complicated for school districts to act as authorizers for charters and requires the MDE to work with charters to create performance criteria for authorizers.

Both seat a Student Discipline Working Group and in response to the Office of Legislative Auditor’s report on Minnesota’s teacher licensure system, both bodies call for a Legislative Task Force on Teacher Licensure to deliberate on the recommendations of that report.

Student Discipline Working Group – This group will review Minnesota Fair Dismissal Act, which is the law that surround how discipline issues in schools are handled. Among other things, they’ll look at summary data on students who are removed from class, suspended and/or expelled, and disaggregate it for poverty, language, disabilities, socioeconomic status, gender, age and more. They’ll examine student needs for support services, a well as best practices in this area. The group will be made of representatives from various professional groups who represent stakeholders, including teachers, administrators, school boards, rural schools, urban schools, school psychologists, special needs students, mental health experts and more, and report back with recommendations by next February, 2017.

Legislative Task Force on Teacher Licensure – This group will review the Office of Legislative Auditor’s report on needed streamlining and improvement to licensing teachers in Minnesota. It will be comprised of 6 senators and 6 representatives, three each appointed by the majority and the minority.

As expected, there are differences between the two bills that will need to be reconciled:

Only in the Senate Policy Omnibus Bill Summary SF 2744 A-5

A great deal of the bill is from Sen. Kent’s testing transparency bill SF2604:

  • Districts and charters must publish a calendar of standardized tests at the start of the school year
  • The MDE must provide a form for parents to submit when opting their child out of standardized tests
  • Schools must (no longer may) create a Site Team of teachers and administrators, with at least one parent representative, to develop and implement strategies and practices to improve instruction, curriculum, cultural competencies and student achievement at the school site
  • In the absence of an agreement between the school board and the exclusive rep of the teachers, districts must form a School District Assessment Committee made up of equal numbers of teachers and administrators, with at least one parent, to advise the school board on which standardized assessments would be used, in addition to those already required by state and federal law

Another large portion of the Senate Policy bill was influenced by Senator Torres Ray’s bill SF2610 improving students’ equitable access to effective and more diverse teachers. This requirement is intertwined with WBWF, evaluations, planning and reporting. Additionally, attention is focused on the development and implementation of strategies and practices related to cultural fluency.

Additionally, the Senate bill includes requirements that:

  • Every child not meeting proficiency in reading on the grade 3 MCA by the end of third grade must receive a personal learning plan determined by the teacher and school or district.
  • Districts inform parents of high schoolers if their child doesn’t meet standards on the MCAs that admission to a public school is free to any Minnesota resident under 21 years of age.
  • The commissioner report to the legislature on the question of replacing high school MCAs with a nationally recognized college entrance exam.
  • Board of Teachers adopt rules that teachers have one hour of suicide prevention training for renewal of an existing license.
  • Homeless students be eligible for early learning scholarships.
  • Districts include cultural competency and culturally responsible practices in teacher development practices.
  • A Career and Technical Educator Licensing Advisory Task Force is formed to review current status of career and tech ed licenses and make recommendations on improvements.

Only in the House Policy Omnibus Bill Summary HF3066 DE1

  • Creates a cross reference directory of parent-rights statutes as they pertain to PreK-12 education
  • Requires the MNSCU chancellor to identify appropriate college-ready scores on the MCA for high school math, reading and writing to serve as a preparation guideline for students
  • Directs the Commissioner of Education to develop, publish and oversee a data security plan that combines administrative for accessing K-12 data systems. A report on the progress of this plan is to be presented by February 10, 2017
  • Allows the establishment of innovation zones to deliver career and technical education programs and services and sharing of district resources
  • Precludes a state college or university from requiring a remedial, noncredit course, if a student received a college-ready MCA score in that area
  • Adds the requirement to collect data on student access to effective and more diverse teachers to a state survey on teacher shortages
  • Requires a variety of accountability changes to the Board of Directors of the Perpich Center for Arts Education
  • Prohibits the commissioner from developing, coordinating, assisting with or using statewide student surveys

Editorial comment: This last prohibition is deeply concerning since it prohibits the MDE from having anything to do with the administration of The Minnesota Student Survey. For decades, on a voluntary basis, Minnesota students have participated in this survey given in grades 5, 8, 9 and 11. Anonymously, students report on substance abuse, school climate, violence and safety concerns, healthy eating, out of school activities as well as their connections to school, community and family.

The survey provides data that address relevant issues confronting students, is used for program planning, assesses risks, meets state and federal survey requirements and marks trends over time. The information collected has allowed policy makers—from school boards to the Department of Health and Human Service—to focus on the needs of our students. This prohibition would terminate our capacity to understand the reality of students’ mental and physical health.

In the name of Full Disclosure

Regarding the bipartisan bill SF2308 we highlighted in our March 18 Update: The bill requires a literacy specialist be placed at the Minnesota Department of Education as well as on staff at each of Minnesota’s six Regional Centers of Excellence.

We highlighted the bill because parents are the ones working through the system to deal with the issue. Since then, we have had push back on who Decoding Dyslexia is. It was brought to our attention that the husband of one of the lead testifiers for the bill began the SuperPac, I Am Dyslexia. We were not aware of this and because even the word SuperPac is highly charged with political connotations, we followed up and received these answers:

What is the relationship between you, Decoding Dyslexia and the SuperPac begun by your husband? Decoding Dyslexia MN is a grassroots group of parents that is unincorporated (of which I belong and lead with a few others). I Am Dyslexia is an Independent Expenditure Committee (aka SuperPac) started by my husband to raise awareness on Dyslexia. We are required to make public report of any donations over $200. All of I Am Dyslexia information is available publicly through the FCC website. I am on the Board of Directors of I Am Dyslexia.

Are you listed in the SuperPac paperwork? No, my husband is the sole registrant/member of I Am Dyslexia.

Have you registered in MN as a lobbyist? No, I am not a lobbyist. I am an individual who volunteers my personal time (without pay or other consideration) advocating for Dyslexia legislation. The same goes for any individual associated with Decoding Dyslexia. We are citizens volunteering our time and voice to advocate for a social justice cause we deeply care about.

Do you personally use any funds from the SuperPac to influence legislation? No I do not, nor does anyone affiliated with Decoding Dyslexia, nor does I Am Dyslexia.

A Look Ahead

Now that policy bills are compiled, attention will turn to funding. We expect to see any funding provisions in the next week to ten days.

Worth a Second Look

  • Minnesota’s teacher shortage is a serious concern, and we’ve heard many bills trying to address it. Since 2004, there’s been a 44% decline in the number of teaching licenses granted. The problem is statewide, actually nationwide, and especially alarming in special education. We also have a shortage of teachers of color. Read about one bill (HF3132, SF2513) in the House and Senate that attempts to start addressing it. Read more background on the problem in this analysis by Minnesota School Boards Association. Other bills address this problem as well, including one that helps districts “grow your own,” a teacher residency program that develops teachers from among their support staff, particularly teachers of color.
  • School districts are letting more students know about their options to take dual credit coursework.

What is Parents United’s agenda? Our agenda is simple: we don’t speak for parents, but work to provide credible, timely information about education policy and the law-making process so parents can speak for themselves. Parents United is a translator of complex terms and policy implications, as well as a navigator for a legislative process often oblique to the public.