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Minnesota Legislature

House passes omnibus education policy bill that includes anti-vaping measures

House Speaker Melissa Hortman hands Chief Clerk Pat Murphy paperwork during the House floor session May 12. Photo by Paul Battaglia

The omnibus education policy bill formally described as “slim” only got thinner with the adoption of a delete all amendment on the House Floor Sunday.

Sponsored by Rep. Cheryl Youakim (DFL-Hopkins), HF163, as amended, was passed 77-56 by the House in the session’s final seconds. Because the Senate adjourned sine die, the bill is dead.

HF163 became my attempt to find bills that had general agreement among stakeholders, would grant schools some needed flexibility, and it would have assisted students, teachers, school nurses and administrators as school began again in the fall,” Youakim said. “What made it through negotiations with the Senate fell woefully short, but there are some bright spots and provisions.”

The trimmed down bill includes measures that would support special education students by offering access to alternative delivery of specialized instruction services, and require teachers to have mental health and suicide prevention training before they’re relicensed.

It would also require schools to adopt and provide evidence-based vaping prevention curriculum at least once to students in grades six through eight, and would encourage districts to provide delivery of this curriculum to high school students.

Early childhood provisions would limit the circumstances under which a school could expel or suspend a child from a school-based prekindergarten program, and 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.

“Unfortunately, there were many important provisions that fell victim to the negotiation process with the other body’s chair,” Youakim said. “Provisions that would have made differences for our students who are frequently left behind.”

Previously considered provisions that were not included would have set a statewide goal for increasing teachers of color and American Indian teachers by at least 2% per year; required districts to develop and post a school meal policy that outlines how they will handle lunch debt; and required education records to include pupil withdrawal agreements when a student transfers to a new school.

Several amendments were unsuccessfully offered, including a proposal from Rep. Ron Kresha (R-Little Falls) that generated a lot of discussion. The proposal would have given school districts permission to hold in-person graduation ceremonies in accordance with social distancing guidelines.   

“Have we gotten so far astray in this world that we won't even allow local people to find ways to celebrate milestones,” Kresha said. “If we truly are the land of rocks and cows up here then we have plenty of space … we can be far enough away that we don't spread a virus, but yet close enough to know we're still neighbors, family members, friends and more importantly that we're still alive.”

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