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Omnibus policy bill to House floor

Published (5/6/2011)
By Kris Berggren
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A statewide literacy plan is the cornerstone of the House omnibus education policy bill, HF1381, sponsored by the House Education Reform Committee Chairwoman Sondra Erickson (R-Princeton).

The House Education Finance Committee approved the bill May 3, as did the House Ways and Means Committee May 4. It now goes to the House floor. Sen. Gen Olson (R-Minnetrista) sponsors a companion, SF1167, which awaits action by the full Senate.

The bill includes HF1487, sponsored by Rep. Pam Myhra (R-Burnsville), which would direct school districts to develop literacy plans based on five key components of literacy: phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension.

The plans would end “social promotion” by requiring students to repeat third grade if they are not reading at grade level, with good cause exceptions allowed. Plans would provide supports for struggling readers starting in kindergarten and require ongoing parent communication about students’ reading proficiency starting in kindergarten. Parents whose child is to be retained because of lack of proficiency could request a meeting with teachers and administrators and would have the final say about the decision.

“When you talk about retaining students there’s a cost,” said Rep. Lyndon Carlson, Sr. (DFL-Crystal). He expressed concern not only about the fiscal cost but the consequences to students who may still struggle after retention.

Erickson said she is working on how to deal with such consequences “in a very sensitive way.”

“Our goal is to have no retentions because we’ve been able to figure out a system to ensure that these children are reading. But then again, there is always the ‘what if,’” Erickson said.

Other provisions would require teacher licensure candidates to pass, not just successfully complete, certain exams, including basic skills exams in reading, writing and math; exempt some Montessori, language immersion or Advanced Placement teachers from district-wide seniority rules in the case of layoffs; and facilitate third-party billing for special education costs, helping districts recoup costs from Medicaid or insurance companies.

Rep. Kent Eken (DFL-Twin Valley) successfully offered an amendment that would allow school districts that have experienced flooding in at least two of the previous five years to begin school before Labor Day.

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