Republican 2018 session education plans largely unknown
The Republican majority held no interim meetings after the 2017 session ended except for a joint hearing on Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) report federal requirements. Very little is known about what might be on their to-do list in 2018.
With a potential deficit looming in the February forecast, it seems unlikely Republicans will offer additional funding for E-12 education. Policy issues will dominate the session, with student discipline and teacher licensure at the top of the list.
The DFL diffused this issue in 2016 by creating a 20-member task force to review Minnesota’s Pupil Fair Dismissal Act and by helping craft a compromise to the “instant expulsion” bills the Republicans supported. Sharp contrast bills like this are popular with the Republicans as they like to use them as wedge issues with the Democrats.
Tiered teacher licensure
The Minnesota Board of Teaching was dissolved by legislative action last session, replaced by the Professional Educator Licensing Standards Board and a new tiered licensure program effective July 1. Recently appointed PELSB members are meeting now to hire staff and set rulemaking changes as designed in state law.
Governor Dayton and DFL education leaders would like some small changes to the licensure tiers, but Republican leaders have signaled they do not want to make changes immediately.
Although this may change as session continues, Republican education leaders have hinted they won’t have legislation to further tweak teacher seniority laws. Last session, the provision that required school districts to use a seniority-based system if they could not negotiate other lay-off provisions was eliminated from state law. Republicans may be waiting for a Republican governor in 2019 to pass further anti-teacher legislation.
There has been little news about potential voucher bills for 2018, but the tax credit expansion or subtraction may come up in negotiations again this session. The proposal is costly ($35 million per year), and the DFL and Governor Dayton were strong opponents in 2017.
OLA Early Childhood Report
The Office of the Legislative Auditor will study eight Minnesota early childhood programs and complete the report in February. The OLA will analyze the following: Child Care Assistance Program, Early Childhood Family Education, Early Childhood Screening, Early Learning Scholarships, Family Home Visiting, Head Start, School Readiness, and Voluntary Pre-Kindergarten.
The following reports were mandated by the 2017 Legislature with due dates in 2018:
- Report on the use of assistive technology by Minnesota’s students and recommend statutory changes to encourage individualized education programs and individualized family service plans to incorporate a child-centered assistive technology plan. (Minnesota Department of Education, 2/15/18)
- Report on up to six school districts or charter schools selected as rollout sites for a coordinated and comprehensive system of educational accountability and public reporting that promotes greater academic achievement, preparation for higher academic education, preparation for the world of work, citizenship, and the arts. (Minnesota Department of Education, 2/1/18)
- Report on the pilot project to provide incentives for school districts and county governments to develop partnership agreements and implement transportation plans to help keep foster care students enrolled in their school of origin when a student is placed in a foster care setting outside the school of origin’s boundaries. (Minnesota Department of Education, 2/1/18)
- Joint report on the progress of the activities of the statewide partnership, if established, of the Northwest Regional Partnership and the Metropolitan Educational Cooperative Service Unit, for a concurrent enrollment teacher training program. (Multiple agencies/groups, 1/15/18)
Small schools funding
Bills were introduced last session that would enhance funding for small school districts with declining or flat enrollment. There were various options for funding amounts, but Republicans weren’t interested in passing the legislation, despite a majority of rural members.
Teacher development and evaluation
Teacher evaluation and development provisions became law in 2012. While a good option that had bipartisan support, there has never been enough funds to help schools implement the provisions. The DFL has tried to increase funding, only to be stopped by Republicans. There will be legislation to increase funding again this year.
Teacher training and mentoring
Educators and school officials agree that strong teacher training and mentoring programs are necessary to train and retain quality teachers. Minnesota needs a solid program and funding to ensure this happens in schools. A proposal related to this may be introduced this session.
Teacher diversity plan
Minnesota has a low percentage of teachers of color. Although programs have been passed to encourage more teachers of color, more can be done with increased funding and continued robust programs.
Special Education cross subsidy relief to stabilize education funding
Minnesota schools must currently cover a roughly $700 million statewide “cross subsidy” of unpaid special education costs mandated by the federal government. Schools cannot be faulted for providing services to the growing special education population; however, the state should help them cover costs to relieve budget constraints on other education programming.
School operating levies
Over 90% of Minnesota school districts carry voter approved levies to make budget ends meet. Such levies have a life span of ten years or so before they “expire” and the district no longer collects funds. One proposal to keep school districts out of the business of running elections would be to grant school boards the power to renew these levies if they didn’t increase current property taxes.
Permanent School Trust Funds
Minnesota schools benefit annually from investments made in certain state-owned land — most in the northern parts of the state. A proposal would direct the Permanent School Trust Fund Commission to study the possibility of allowing school districts to borrow against school trust lands to pay for facility needs.
Another change would give greater authority to the Trust Lands director to make decisions currently managed by the Department of Natural Resources.
Feds 529 plans for K-12 private school use
The new federal tax law allows 529 college savings plans to be used for E-12 private school tuition payments. There will likely be discussion as tax conformity is considered on whether Minnesota can remove such a provision in the upcoming session.
Legislation last session would have changed student graduation requirements, specifically requiring that the social studies credits include one-half credit of civics in either 11th or 12th grade. The bill has gained traction in Minnesota and nationally because there has been a concern that students do not have a basic knowledge of government structure and systems.
Support Our Students
Legislation will likely be introduced to increase funding for the Support Our Students program, which helps schools hire additional counselors, nurses, social workers, psychologists, and chemical dependency counselors. Discussions are also underway to draft legislation to help and encourage colleges to train individuals for these professions.
Sex trafficking education
Legislation is being drafted allowing schools to include sexual exploitation prevention instruction in health curriculum. The legislation is likely in response to the increased reporting and evidence of human trafficking in Minnesota.