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House passes added wage protections for hourly school workers

HF4415 would require school districts and charter schools to pay hourly employees for the scheduled hours they were unable to work due to coronavirus-related closures. House Photography file photo

Hourly school employees could have added protections against wage loss due to COVID-19-related school closures and distance learning.

Sponsored by Rep. Jim Davnie (DFL-Mpls), HF4415 would require school districts and charter schools to pay hourly employees for the scheduled hours they were unable to work due to coronavirus-related closures. It would also require districts to reimburse companies they contract with, such as private bus companies, if the company chooses to pay employees for hours they were scheduled to work but did not during the distance learning period. 

Passed 83-49 Monday, the bill now heads to the Senate, where Sen. Carla Nelson (R-Rochester) is the sponsor.

“Our goal with this legislation is twofold: to assert our role as a co-equal branch of government, and the policy setting branch at that, and to support schools, staff, students and families by directing a stable and predictable path forward amid what is, and certainly feels like, a challenging situation,” Davnie explained.  

Additionally, the proposal would provide library systems with greater flexibility over the use of their regional library telecommunications aid to expand internet access capabilities and better partner with schools to deliver educational support in a distance learning environment. Similarly, school districts would be allowed to use funds for programs that aren’t being fully utilized — such as school-aged care and childhood screenings — for other purposes.

“These changes are all designed to be revenue neutral and assure school districts that they’ll receive the revenues that they had budgeted for at the beginning of this school year,” Davnie said.

Rep. Ron Kresha (R-Little Falls) noted that the bill wouldn’t prevent employees from being laid off and that employees who continue to work are being paid. While he supports some of its provisions, he opposes the bill saying that it doesn’t provide districts the flexibility needed to make personnel decisions.

“We as policymakers have to look at how we can put the best situation in place and trust the people that are closest to the problem, which is the school boards and superintendents,” he said.

There are also several non-funding related changes in the bill that would create and legislatively approve certain waivers of state law regarding assessments, graduation and course requirements, and potential licensure issues faced by prospective and current teachers. It would also provide that student absences from March 1 through the end of the distance learning period would not count toward truancy referrals.

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