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Minnesota Legislature

Political ban for educators

Published (2/24/2012)
By Erin Schmidtke
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Public school employees would be banned from using district resources to further any political agenda.

Sponsored by Rep. Kurt Bills (R-Rosemount), HF329 would provide that public resources intended for educational purposes cannot be directed to promote any candidate or issue. The House Education Finance Committee approved the bill Feb. 21, which now goes to the House floor.

Bills worries school employees are supporting political ideas while on the job, when they are supposed to be acting as nonpartisan educators. He referenced a policy already in place in the Lakeville School District, which barred its staff from spending district resources on political activity after it received complaints from parents.

“Schools are a place of learning, not politics for any side,” Bills said.

Jan Alswager, chief lobbyist for Education Minnesota, said the bill would infringe on educators’ rights.

“This bill is overreaching. … Is that really how we want to be interpreting freedom of speech?” she asked.

John Kysylyczyn, former mayor of Roseville, pushed for more action from the committee on the issue. He asked that such use of resources be categorized as a misdemeanor. He said that by not designating this type of activity as a criminal offense, school employees are allowed opportunities that private citizens are not.

Rep. Mindy Greiling (DFL-Roseville) said that she hoped Bills would not increase the list of banned activities or consequences for school employees, saying that there is often a blurred line between stating fact and political advocacy.

Sen. Dave Thompson (R-Lakeville) sponsors the companion, SF577, which awaits action by the Senate Education Committee.

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