Legislature takes more pointed look at education policies

/ 10 March 2012 / jennifer

Jeanne Poppe, Austin Daily Herald, March 10, 2012 –

The Minnesota Constitution gives the state legislature the responsibility of establishing a “general and uniform system of public schools” throughout the state. This duty includes sufficiently funding a “thorough and efficient system of public schools.”

These important words written in our state Constitution establishes a fundamental right for students to receive a public education and show how highly regarded education is in Minnesota.

Parents for generations have aspirations for their children, which include higher, better and greater outcomes than they themselves achieved. These aspirations include more opportunities for a college education, better pay in jobs and careers and the ability to excel in life at a level of comfort that might be higher than what they had or what they were able to provide to their children.

In this legislative session, unlike any other I have participated in, there is a more deliberate attempt — for better or worse — to adjust educational policies. There have been bills to address teaching performance and evaluation, and reduce teachers pay and benefits. We have seen bills to address students’ ability to enter post-secondary education at a younger age, either through early graduation or expanding the Post Secondary Enrollment Options to accept ninth and tenth graders.

There are bills to direct school boards about how they should determine layoff policies or telling them when schools can start school. Although I wouldn’t agree that all of these bills are worthy or helpful to enact, the focus on education has encouraged “out of the box” proposals.

I have become co-author of one of these bills, known as the Professional Empowerment Act (HF 1069). The purpose of the Professional Empowerment Act is to improve accountability, promote innovation and enhance learning by empowering those who work inside schools to make management decisions. The bill allows traditional school boards to reorganize themselves as education boards. Education boards would have the same powers and duties of the school board, but instead of managing the operation of schools, education boards would create and oversee performance agreements with schools, administrators and teaching staff.

An education board differs from a traditional school board in that it would not directly manage school districts but rather set learning objectives, provide financing and evaluate results according to the performance agreement entered with schools. The hoped-for outcome is by separating school oversight from operations, conditions will be ripe for more innovative and efficiency in school management.

School boards could voluntarily convert to education boards or residents could vote for this type of change. It would be permissive not mandatory. The new model would ensure that a variety of quality public school options are available for all school-kids and promote partnerships with school providers by seeking innovative curricular, pedagogical, organizational models, leadership models, evaluation designs, significant use of digital technology, and other innovations. Education boards would have added duties including seeking input from families, students, the community, teachers, and administrators to develop a model that best meets the needs of students in the community.

I encourage you to share your own ideas and suggestions with me regarding any issue concerning this community or our state. Please contact me at (651) 296-4193 or 888-682-3180 or by email at rep.jeanne.poppe@house.mn.