Update for March 24: Education Policy Bill in the Offing

/ 24 March 2016 / Shawna

If 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

We expect to see the education policy bills from both House and Senate early next week. It will be interesting to see which of the many bills that have been heard the chairs select to move forward into an education omnibus policy bill.

We hear leadership of both bodies may talk about appropriations in mid-April. We’ll know more at that time. In a non-funding year, if leadership of House and Senate choose to expend funds on education, those appropriations become part of a larger Supplemental Budget bill, rather than its own Education Omnibus bill. So the only purely Education Omnibus bill we should see this year will deal exclusively with policy.

There’s a newborn in the inner circle of the House Hearing room. Congratulations to mother Rep. Anna Wills (R) Rosemount

Bills of Interest

A great deal of attention is being focused on dealing with the teacher shortage.

A series of bills SF 2908, SF 2981, SF 2982 authored by Sen. Jensen (DFL, Owatonna) provide recruitment grants, income tax credits and tax credits for expenses teachers incur in the course of improving their craft and providing for their students. SF 2617 Clausen (DFL, Apple Valley) calls for tuition offsets for concurrent enrollment teachers who need to comply with new HLC requirements by returning to school.

Teacher shortages are a national issue as is the need to diversify the teaching force.

Hearings were held this week on Rep Carlos Mariani (DFL, St. Paul) and Sen Patricia Torres Ray (DFL, Minneapolis) companion bills HF2944 and SF2610. The bills 1) state the intention for all Minnesota students to have equitable access to an effective and diverse teacher force, and 2) direct the commissioner of the Office of Higher Education to work with stakeholders to develop recommendations for the legislature on how it can be done.

According to the 2015 Teacher Supply and Demand Report for the Legislature from MDE, Minnesota’s teacher force is currently 3% teachers of color. In contrast, our student body is 29%. A team of highly effective testifiers spoke of myriad reasons the teacher force is not reflective of our student body: lack of role models in teaching, financial viability of the career, the expense of the degree and the expense of student teaching.

U of MN Professor Vichet Chhuon succinctly summarized the intent of the bill: “An increase in teacher diversity is good for all students.” Rep Peggy Flanagan (DFL, St. Paul) spoke of her own experience when she first had a teacher of color, “Everything switched when I saw myself in my teacher and in my curricula.”

Getting a lot of attention, SF 2604 Kent (DFL, Woodbury)–the Testing Transparency Act, is gaining in the Senate. The Senate author has been working with all stakeholders to make the bill workable, but its companion HF 3461 has yet to receive a hearing in the House. Both bills are bipartisan, establish student user privacy rights, deal with online educational services security and privacy standards and strictly control use for student profiles and prohibit use for targeted marketing.

Several bills for pilots or small appropriations to further the cause of improving achievement gaps appear to be worthy efforts. Two such bills are SF 2916 Franzen (DFL, Edina), a grant to help girls of color focus on STEM careers and SF 2959 Champion (DFL, Minneapolis) allowing for a fast-tracked GED process.

Caution: Editorial ahead

So many bills asking for small or one-time appropriations are worthy efforts. However, one can’t help but wonder if we provided enough money on the per pupil formula to educate our students, would we all be fighting over small grants, one-time appropriations and money to implement pilot programs? Could we not nibble around the edges of large problems, but address them directly and sufficiently?

Student discipline

It seems school safety is on the minds of many lately. With student assaults on staff in the news, along with contract negotiations in many districts, the concern seems also to be on the minds of legislators. Three bills this week uniquely address student discipline. SF2814 (Clausen, DFL Apple Valley) assembles a student discipline working group to look more closely at the causes of and responses to student discipline, including disaggregating data on suspensions and expulsions across grace, gender, age, language proficiency and more. The bill calls for a variety of stakeholders from school settings, including teachers, principals, mental health professionals, school counselors and others. Many testified in favor of the bill, but chief among suggestions was the importance of ensuring people of color and students are represented.

SF2323 (Brown R, Becker) calls for mandatory expulsion of a student who assaults a teacher, as well as a requirement that it’s up to the teacher to decide if and when that student is allowed back into class. While the intention of teacher safety was lauded by many, the efficacy of this bill was questioned by all 11 testifiers, each of whom opposed the bill. As one Senator summed up, “This uses an axe to fix a nuanced problem.”

School Board and principals’ representatives spoke of the desire to keep authority within districts to consider expulsions on a case by case basis, depending on factors including; previous student discipline, special needs and other circumstances. Others spoke of the inability some special needs students have, by the nature of their disability, to control impulses or emotional reactions.

Many others called on the body of research that shows that suspension and expulsion practices not only neglect to change or prevent student misbehavior, but disproportionately affect students of color. “Teachers want to target the cause of these incidents and use restorative practices to address the problems,” argued Highland High School student Rogelio Salinas. Some commented that they’d like to see Senator Clausen’s task force bill work out some of this issue prior to creating any statute around it.

Many of the arguments brought up against SF2323 were used in favor of SF2898 (Pappas DFL, St Paul) the third of these disciplinary related bills. This bill, called the Student Inclusion and Engagement Act, requires districts to use suspension and expulsion as a last resort after trying non-exclusionary disciplinary policies first, such as positive behavior interventions and other support strategies. It also requires a parent meeting and administrative conference prior to suspension, as well as written notice of the suspension and its reasons. The bill calls for training for teachers and staff to create a positive school culture, prevent and address pupil misconduct, teach restorative justice practices, and other techniques to create healthy school climates.

Minnesota Achievement and Integration Rules rejected

When a law is passed with the breadth of the 2013 Achievement and Integration Aid Act, it is incumbent on the Minnesota Department of Education to create rules for its implementation. When those rules have gone through the public process, they must be vetted by an Administrative Law Judge. This week the ALJ for this case, Judge Anne O’Reilly rejected the rules presented to her.

She specifically suggested the rules:

  • Remove charters from proposed changes
  • Make a better case for why they are replacing existing integration rules
  • Define the equal education opportunities and racial balance called for by the updated integration law. — Paul Pioneer Press

At this point, the MDE will need to comb through the ruling and determine their next steps. If they wish to proceed, they will need the legislature to move the rules forward.

A Look Ahead

Policy bills will be rolled out next week in both House and Senate.

Worth a Second Look

“Minnesota’s failure to graduate its high school students of color is among the worst in the nation.” Using federal data and data from the Minnesota Department of Education, a recent MPR News brief describes the problem in compelling graphs. They also tell the story of three schools that are succeeding.

Christopher Emdin is an education professor who speaks to building relationships with students by better understanding the emotional, physical and cultural context in which they live. His article, How Can White Teachers Do Better by Urban Kids of Color, speaks to the dichotomy in which we advocate for equity and achievement and at the same time dismiss the valuable life experience of each student. This is particularly relevant as Minnesota seeks to expand diversity among teachers.

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.