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Minnesota Legislature

Slimmed-down omnibus education policy bill clears committee

Taking a step back from coronavirus-related legislation, the House Education Policy Committee approved the omnibus education policy bill Wednesday.

Recognizing that students and educators will continue to face non-COVID 19 related challenges, Rep. Cheryl Youakim (DFL-Hopkins), the committee chair, said HF163 is pertinent to attempt to address some of them now.

“I think it’s important for us to pass an education policy bill this year; in fact it’s our job,” she said.

The bill was approved as amended, on a 10-6 party line vote, and now heads to the House Floor. The companion, SF3034, awaits action by the Senate E-12 Finance and Policy Committee. Sen. Carla Nelson (R-Rochester) is the sponsor.

Proposed measures include setting a statewide goal for increasing teachers of color and American Indian teachers by at least 2% per year, requiring districts to develop and post a school meal policy that outlines how it will handle lunch debt, and requiring education records to include pupil withdrawal agreements when a student transfers to a new school.

“I was looking for a balance of proposals that were noncontroversial, had a potential for consensus, would ease burdens on our school administration and staff, as well as create a better climate for our students,” Youakim said. “I think we have struck that balance in this bill.” 

Most controversial proposals that had previously been heard by the committee were not included in the bill, such as teacher licensure changes. However, Republican members raised opposition to new directives aimed at school boards and staff.

“We have at least nine new mandates in the proposal and I would prefer that we focused this session on the continuity of education as it’s proceeding now,” said Rep. Sondra Erickson (R-Princeton)

“We don’t know what the future holds for our students, and there is so much more we could have been doing to help our students and our teachers and other staff to be ready for the 2020-21 school year,” she said.  

Erickson unsuccessfully offered several amendments, including a proposal that would have made modifications to the state’s Innovation Research Zones Pilot Program by deemphasizing the research component of the program and removing the Department of Education approval process.  

The committee adopted three amendments, including one from Rep. Glenn Gruenhagen (R-Glencoe) that would require students who attend postsecondary classes to provide a copy of their grades — including interim and non-final grades — to their high school to ensure that they are attending the program and passing.

Another successful amendment was offered by Rep. Ami Wazlawik (DFL-White Bear Lake Township), which would establish a developmentally appropriate screening timeline for recipients of early learning scholarships. It would also change the deadline by which child care providers would be required to receive a three- or four-star Parent Aware rating in order to be eligible to receive early learning scholarship funds.

Finally, Rep. Dean Urdahl (R-Grove City) successfully offered an amendment that would create a teacher mentorship working group to gather information and design a model for school districts to use. The goal would be to find ways to better support educators to ultimately retain them in the industry, Urdahl explained.

“At least two out of five of our teachers quit within the first five years. Our teachers need more support. Mentoring can provide that,” he said. “Some of the most successful education systems in the world have very comprehensive mentoring programs and they keep their teachers longer.”


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