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Legislative News and Views - Rep. Michael Nelson (DFL)

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Education "Debate"

Tuesday, March 10, 2015


Thanks for a great Town Hall Meeting

I want to thank all my neighbors for coming to our Town Hall last Tuesday.  Despite the icy, slippery roads and the cold temperatures last week (who else is happy to see them gone?), Senator Eaton, Rep. Hilstrom and I were honored that so many of you turned out to talk about what matters to you and to our state.  We heard a lot on how the state budget’s predicted $1.9 billion surplus can be reinvested in the future of Minnesota and its people.

Education “Debate”

We had our first late-night-bill debate last week on Thursday as the GOP passed its teacher layoff bill.  We heard over and over again how laying off teachers would close the achievement gap and that bad teachers never get fired because of those big bad unions and teacher tenure.  I know it’s a contentious issue, but there are some facts out there on this issue and they’re what led me to vote no on H.F.2.

Myth: “We don’t fire bad teachers”

No.  There is no law preventing tenured teachers from being fired.  When districts layoff teachers based on seniority, it’s a local decision.  Districts have the tools to remove teachers from the classroom if they are performing poorly.  In fact, the state’s latest report on teacher shortages showed that over 350 teachers were fired in the 2012-2013 school year alone.  It’s not an easy or fun process, nor should it be, but to throw up your hands and say it’s the union’s fault is management not doing their job.  The report found was that filling classroom vacancies is more of a problem.  2,002 teachers left the profession that same year – we don’t have a quality problem, we have a burnout problem.  Teacher tenure exists to protect teachers from being fired by the district for unfair reasons – like teaching evolution, or climate change, or that vaccines are safe. 

Myth: “Minnesota’s schools are failing and teacher layoffs will fix ‘em”

We hear over and over that the most important way to close the achievement gap is to fire all those bad teachers – despite the fact that good principals routinely do just that.  The thing is, if you’re looking at the results, Minnesota’s teachers are really good.  On average, our students are at nor near the top of almost every academic measure nationwide and even worldwide.  That makes sense since we have some of the most rigorous standards for becoming a teacher and for what students have to be taught. 

Where Minnesota’s schools need to improve is in our disparities between students from struggling families and the rest of the student body.  Laying off a few teachers isn’t gonna help a student learn any faster, or prevent a family from being homeless, or stop a kid from witnessing domestic abuse.  Management that is collaborative and inclusive has closed the achievement gap in Osseo’s School District.  In the last five years, they’ve managed to narrow their disparity in graduation rates.  On-time graduation rates for Asian-American, American Indian, African American, Latino, and Free/Reduced Price Lunch eligible students rose 12%, 28%, 16%, 12%, and 16% respectively – and they didn’t need the GOP education “reform” bill to do it.

Myth: “This bill is something that we can all agree on”

No.  This bill was packed with “solutions” that were either poorly thought out, or politically calculated.  To address the shortage of licensed teachers, the bill allows schools to hire teachers from states with lower teaching standards.  It allows non-licensed community experts to be hired willy-nilly, without the board approval needed under current law.  I fail to see how lowering the teaching bar will close the achievement gap or benefit our students in general.

The point is, the things that we need to do to improve our schools are serious and complex, and we shouldn’t be passing bills that do little but poll well. 

As always I remain accessible and want to hear from you.  Feel free to contact me at 651-296-3751, or


Thank you for giving me the honor of serving you and our community,