Omnibus bills are here! Update for March 21, 2014

This Week at the Capitol

We are already in the omnibus phase of the session! This week was spent crafting education policy omnibus bills created from bills heard throughout the session. An entire bill can make it into the omnibus or only certain provisions of that bill. The bills rolled into an omnibus are to deal with one issue area – like education policy!

The House and Senate each design their own education omnibus bills and present them for passage in their respective chambers. If the bills differ, a conference committee is formed. Traditionally, education conference committees have been five members from the House and five from the Senate; the majority of conferees will come from the majority party.

Conferees are appointed to reconcile the bill. When the conference committee report returns to each chamber for a final floor vote, no further amendments can be made. Therefore, a conference committee report is the final bill. It can be passed or rejected from one or both bodies.

In this issue:

Side-by-side Comparison Chart of Education Policy Omnibus bills [pdf] 

A cautionary note: this chart shows a comparison of highlights from the House and Senate Omnibus bills as they stand today. As these bills move, amendments can change dramatically what is in the bill; provisions all originated from the referenced bills. 

Highlights of the English Language Learners bill

We mentioned HF3062/SF2611 last week as a truly 21st century bill. Introduced by education policy chairs from both bodies, provisions from it provide the basis for the Education Policy Omnibus bill. The intent of the bill is to highlight the asset that bilingualism brings to our students and state. Just a few of the provisions that capture the shift outlined in this bill:

  • Defines cultural competence to mean the ability and will to interact effectively with people of different cultures, native languages and socioeconomic backgrounds.
  • Requires educators to possess knowledge and skills to effectively teach all English learners in their classroom.
  • Requires reading assessments in English and where practicable in the predominant native languages of district students, to identify and evaluate student’s areas of academic need related to literacy.
  • Requires schools annually to give parents of children not reading at grade level strategies they may use at home to help children succeed in becoming proficient in reading in English AND in their native language.

More than just a laundry list of requirements it is the spirit of this law that is ground breaking. The change is the idea that with our English learners, we place the teaching of content as the primary goal rather than the teaching of English.

Minnesota Teacher Licensure Examination Amendment explanation (MTLE)

The original MTLE (HF 2871 Yarusso) provision in the House Omnibus Policy bill was changed through an amendment passed in committee. In the amendment, a teacher attains licensure through passage of the MTLE or achieving a requisite composite score on a recent ACT/SAT (not more than 10 years old). The Board of Teaching is charged with determining that cut score. Also in the amendment:

Exemption for immersion teachers

  • The requirement does not apply to “non-native English speakers, who apply for a license to provide direct instruction in their native language or world language instruction.”

Greater flexibility:

  • Teachers from out of state may pass the MTLE or demonstrate the requisite composite score on a recent ACT/SAT (not more than 10 years old) unless there is an interstate reciprocity agreement.
  • The Board of Teaching must redesign rules that include “creating flexible, specialized teaching licenses, credentials and other endorsement forms to increase student participation in language immersion programs, world language instruction, career development opportunities, work-based learning, early college course and careers, career and technical programs, Montessori schools, and project and place-based learning, among other career and college ready learning offerings.”

The author of the amendment was clear in her statements that this was a compromise agreement. Many are still disappointed that Minnesota would use a test that has been called into question for its racial bias and its validity.

More about MTLE

The original companion bills aligned with the recommendations of the Minnesota Teacher Licensure Task Force. The amended version centers on changing this concept from the original bill: if a person teaching under a temporary license does not pass the MTLE they may receive their initial license if: their transcript shows they received college credit for courses in math and writing; and the school administrator who supervised them states in writing that the person is able to perform basic job responsibilities requiring reading, writing and math skills.

Snippets from testimony on this issue illustrate the point:

  • “The task force, or this bill for that matter, is not interested in getting rid of a basic skills test, but creating alternative pathways to licensure.”
  • The basic skills test in its present form is flawed – testimony often centered on the racial bias and validity of the test.
  • Related to that, the MTLE was devised by Pearson Testing specifically for Minnesota teacher candidates and does not translate to any other state. Will Pearson be held responsible for correcting errors on the test?
  • Often forgotten in the argument that “if we do away with a basic skills test we lower expectations of Minnesota teachers,” is the long list of rigorous tests in content and pedagogy that one must pass to achieve a teaching license in Minnesota.
  • “Effective classroom practice has nothing to do with passing a basic skills test. There is no basic skills test that translates to good teaching.”

Other important bills to watch

Nutrition
HF2480 (Selcer-DFL-Hopkins), the bill providing lunch to all children whether their families qualify for free OR reduced lunch, has passed through the House. Its companion, SF2562 (Hayden-DFL-Minneapolis), has been sent to Senate Finance where we expect it to be placed in a Finance appropriation bill developed a bit later in session.

Anti-bullying
Unless a committee member requests a roll call vote, committee votes are not recorded. A roll call request happens most often if a bill is deemed controversial. Such was the case Wednesday in Finance. The Safe and Supportive Schools Act, HF 826, passed out of Senate Finance on a 12-9 recorded vote (scroll to bottom). It is on its way to a full Senate floor vote.

HF 826 passed out of the House last year, but the Senate version has gone through a long amendment process so the bill being considered in the Senate today looks very different from last year’s House version. Expect a conference committee on this bill. Audio of Finance committee hearing.

Check out Parents United’s front page for a variety of perspectives on this bill.

Teacher evaluation
HF 2775 (Brynaert) relates to the new teacher evaluation system that will go into effect in Fall 2014.

While the bill retains the original system of a three-year evaluation, with at least one year each cycle to include a summative evaluation by a trained evaluator (and three years with a trained evaluator for probationary teachers), it makes a number of notable changes:

  1. It allows participation in professional learning communities (and other job embedded learning opportunities) to be integrated into the model.
  2. It requires districts (including charters) to provide effective evaluator training to those who will do teacher observations and assessments.
  3. It provides state funding for teacher training and evaluation, except where Alternative Teacher Professional Pay System dollars are already being provided (note: this is often called “Q comp.”)
  4. It ensures that alternative professional pay systems that some district have in place are not substituting for a teacher evaluation system – that districts who wish to continue with alternative pay programs can do so for merit pay and teacher leadership, additionally, and can also have levy authority to fund those.

A look ahead

In budget years, Education Omnibus bills combine policy and funding in one large bill. This year, instead of one education omnibus bill, expect education funding provisions to be rolled into a Finance Omnibus bill and education policy provisions to continue in the Education Policy Omnibus bill.

The education funding provisions will be finalized next week and we will track those in a Finance Omnibus Bill and track policy in the Ed Policy Omnibus bill. Keep your eye on the Capitol Calendar because things change quickly.

If you want to see what COULD be on the docket, check out our list of House and Senate bill introductions – it is kind of the “at bat” holding zone for potential bills.

Worth a second look

Most days on our website, Parents United provides links to our Daily News Picks – education articles that catch our eye. A few of those articles are worth a second look either because they are so compelling or because they provide context for an issue currently being debated at the Capitol: When we advocate for broader curriculum, or a greater concentration on arts or music, we are OFTEN asked, “But where would we get money for that?” I say, let’s take a look at our testing budgets – they are crazy. Take another look at this piece – Amid rising costs, school districts rethink their use of standardized testing.

What is Parents United’s agenda? It’s 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. Truth be told, 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.


Mary Cecconi, Executive Director
Parents United for Public Schools

mary@parentsunited.org
1667 Snelling Ave. N., St. Paul, MN 55108
651-999-7391; www.parentsunited.org