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Legislative News and Views - Rep. Mary Kunesh-Podein (DFL)

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Minn. House Education Policy Committee Advances Legislation to Increase Equity in Education

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

St. Paul, MN – Today, the Minnesota House Education Policy Committee held a remote hearing to advance legislation that would increase equity in education across the state. Provisions included increasing education opportunities for American Indian and Tribal Nations, cultural responsiveness, respectful lunch policies, social-emotional learning, limitations on preschool suspensions and non-exclusionary disciplinary policies and practices. 

 

Distance learning has greatly exacerbated the opportunity gap in our state amid the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Rep. Cheryl Youakim (DFL-Hopkins), chair of the House Education Policy Committee. “Our students deserve equal access to education and a safe and welcoming school environment.”

 

The approved legislation sets a statewide goal for increasing the percentage of teachers of color by 2% each year and requires a joint report from the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) and Professional Educator Licensing and Standards Board every other year on the state’s progress and strategies toward this goal. It also includes several provisions that create greater equity in education for American Indian students by requiring more collaboration between MDE and tribal nations when revising academic standards and delivering critical student support. 

 

"We have been given a gift, a do-over, to complete meaningful legislation so that when our students, educators, and administrators return to the work of educating our children, they have increased support and equitable access to resources,” said Rep. Mary Kunesh-Podein (DFL-New Brighton). “This compilation of bi-partisan efforts is truly student-centered, putting the spotlight on real time outcomes." 

 

The also includes a groundbreaking provision limiting the circumstances under which schools can suspend or expel prekindergarten children. Additionally, the legislation requires school districts to consider alternatives to suspension prior to removing a child from class or beginning dismissal proceedings. These alternatives can include social-emotional learning, counseling, social work services, mental health services, special education referrals and evaluation, and evidence-based academic interventions. Readmission plans for students after suspension may also include these supports. 

 

Committee members also adopted a bill that prohibits schools from denying a school lunch to any student who qualifies for a free or reduced-price meal, whether or not they have an outstanding balance. Under the legislation, schools are required to develop and post on their website a school meals policy that describes what happens when a student does not bring money to pay for their meal. The policy is required to be reasonable and well-defined and must prohibit lunch shaming or other means of ostracizing the student. 

 

Also approved were various measures to further support mental health and physical wellbeing in the classroom. Some of these include mental health training for teachers, vaping-prevention instruction for students, and social-emotional learning strategies to be implemented in schools across the state, using their own model to achieve goals. ? 

 

Supporting documents can be found on the committee’s website, and a video recording of the hearing can be found on the House Public Information’s YouTube channel.? 

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