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Governor’s education policy plan draws strong reactions on House panel

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Gov. Tim Walz’s education policy proposal includes a variety of new and previously debated measures that aim to tackle student “challenges of the past and present.”

Rep. Ruth Richardson (DFL-Mendota Heights) sponsors the bill, HF950. It was amended and held over by the House Education Policy Committee Wednesday for possible omnibus bill inclusion. The companion, SF788, awaits action by the Senate Education Finance and Policy Committee. Sen. Roger Chamberlain (R-Lino Lakes) is the sponsor.

Department of Education staff, including Deputy Commissioner Heather Mueller, presented the proposal, saying it’s focused on ensuring students have equitable access to safe and supportive schools.  

“We are moving forward with recognizing first and foremost we must center our students and center exactly who they are and what they bring with them every single day,” she said.

The proposal includes broadly supported measures to increase the percentage of teachers of color and Indigenous teachers in the state’s workforce.

It also includes a number of contentious items related to teacher licensure requirements and disciplinary practices, both of which have been debated before and are no less controversial this go-around.

Rep. Sondra Erickson (R-Princeton) opposes both the proposed changes and the bill as a whole, which she said does little to address the academic and cognitive needs of students and instead imposes too many new restrictions on districts.

“This bill is unfortunately a huge mandate that is going to crowd out any local control at a time when we’ve had a pandemic and are continuing with the pandemic,” she said. “The focus should be on what can we free up for our school districts and charters so that they can accomplish … ways to close this learning gap that has occurred.”

Rep. Hodan Hassan (DFL-Mpls) also expressed concern, saying the bill doesn’t go far enough to tackle racial disparities and the achievement gap.

“Not once have I heard … any specific program that would be focused on Black students and how we are going to close the achievement gap for Black students,” she said.

Proposed policy measures would: 

  • remove the basic skills test for teacher licensure and eliminate the three years of teaching experience required under a Tier 2 license to a pathway to a Tier 3;
  • eliminate the prohibition on Tier 1 teachers from joining a bargaining unit and add Adult Basic Education teachers to union membership;
  • require non-exclusionary disciplinary policies and practices to be used before pupil withdrawal proceedings, except where there is an immediate danger to self or other, or property nearby;
  • require one credit of physical education, reducing the number of elective credits from seven to six;
  • set a statewide goal for increasing teachers of color and American Indian teachers by at least 2% per year;
  • prohibit American Indian mascots;
  • require districts to include ethic studies and anti-racist curriculum in their World’s Best Workforce plans;
  • require school districts to adopt respectful lunch policies;
  • provide Tribal Nations access to data on their students;
  • prohibit using physical restraints on children under age 5; and
  • require mental health instruction.

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