The Senate DFL believes all Minnesotans should have the opportunity to achieve their dreams and that includes a future in which all Minnesotans have a path to success. To ensure quality education in Minnesota, it’s not enough to just maintain the status quo — we need to make smart, significant funding increases in our schools to close the opportunity gaps our children are facing. We must also ensure college and technical schools are an attainable goal to grow and retain the 21st century workforce we need.

COVID-19 bills passed

As soon as the COVID-19 pandemic hit and Governor Walz announced the Peacetime Emergency, the Legislature worked to help schools, students, teachers, and families navigate distance learning and other changes to our educational delivery system. Unfortunately, because the Senate Republicans dragged their feet on discussing an agreement, these provisions could have passed in March to benefit schools but were delayed until May 17.

In the final days of the legislative session, the following COVID-related provisions passed:

Fiscal Impact of the bill:

  • $180,000 in savings due to the waiver of statewide testing requirements in the 2019-20 school year, as well as $9,000 in savings due to a hold-harmless formula adjustment for Developmental Screening aid
  • $49,000 in FY20 for the IT costs related to the implementation of the conditional Tier 3 license and $137,000 in the tails for the extension of the Early Middle College program
  • A delay in revenue related to Achievement and Integration aid that schools would otherwise have been unable to use in FY20 so that they are able to receive that same amount of funding spread out between FY21 and FY22
  • These changes together result in a net savings to the state of $218,000 this biennium and a net cost of $215,000 in the tails

COVID-related provisions to help teachers, schools and students

  • Probationary teacher service day requirement waived: Reduced the service day requirement for probationary teachers interrupted by distance learning
  • Student Statewide testing changes: Statewide testing requirement were waived for the 2019-20 school year
  • Teacher Licensure: The pandemic closed teacher licensure testing facilities and created delays in renewal options. The bill requires the Professional Educator Licensing and Standards Board (PELSB) to implement a six-month delay process for any renewal requirements
    • New teachers who would otherwise have met the requirements for a Tier 3 license will receive a one-year conditional Tier 3 license without being required to complete the required licensure exams, due to the closure of testing sites
    • Teachers are required to complete necessary exams prior to next summer to receive a full Tier 3 license
  • Fund transfers help school districts cover costs:  The agreementallows fund transfers from unencumbered funds to pay for community education and nutrition costs normally covered by fees
  • Regional libraries: Libraries are allowed to spend regional library telecommunications aid on technology and broadband because of the pandemic and distance learning changes
  • School Fiscal adjustments: School aid formula adjustments for special education, school meals, CTE, nonpublic pupil transportation, desegregation and integration transportation, Literacy aid, School Age care, developmental screening achievement and integration and ABE aids
  • Forecast article: Ensures that the forecast amounts align with changes in fiscal impact for schools

(HF 4415)

Items not passed

With the state facing a pandemic-related budget deficit, prospects for an E-12 supplemental bill evaporated in March. Despite DFL pressure to provide additional provisions for students, the Republicans pushed back and dragged the process until the and a slimmed down version of many DFL-backed policy provisions were passed by the House in the final moments of the legislative session, without enough time left for the Senate to take up the provisions.

Additional E-12 finance provisions passed not related to pandemic

  • Middle college (SLIFE): Deleted the June 30 sunset of the Students with Limited or Interrupted Formal Education (SLIFE) program who need additional time to receive their high school diplomas
  • Extended time set aside deleted: Deletes the 2017 compensatory extended time set aside passed in 2017 that required districts to set aside a portion of compensatory funds for extended time proposals
  • Fund transfers approved for Marshall County and Ogilvie school districts

Policy Provisions passed

  • School referendum notice extended to 45 days: School referendum notification requirement extension expands the time frame for the operating referendum notice to be delivered to voters by increasing the earliest day of the notice’s delivery from 30 to 45 days prior to the election. This change helps districts as early voting laws have changed
  • Dyslexia screening requirements: Clarifies reporting requirements on district efforts to screen and identify students with characteristics of dyslexia to specify that the annual report must include: a summary of the district’s screening efforts, the number of students screened in that year; and the number of students identified as demonstrating characteristics of dyslexia
  • Unclaimed drug disposal requirements for districts: Provides districts with a process to safely dispose of unclaimed medications and drugs
  • School transportation contract changes: School district transportation contract changes clarifies that school district fuel and transportation contracts are free from the two-year contract negotiation requirements with a ten-year contract cap
  • Teacher mental health training: To help teachers address the mental health crisis in schools, the bill requires that Tier 1 and 2 teachers are required to have mental health retraining for licensure renewal
  • Functional behavioral assessment: Districts may conduct a functional behavioral assessment of a student without a comprehensive evaluation. Parents may request the comprehensive evaluation
  • ADSIS participation allowed: Allows a student who receives special education services to participate in an ADSIS program if the program is in a service area that is not included in the student’s individualized education program
  • Vaping education requirement: Requires public schools to provide vaping prevention instructions at least once during grades 6 through 8 and encourages schools to do the same during grades 9 through 12. Also requires questions about tobacco use and vaping be included in the Minnesota student survey

Early Education changes fought for by DFL members

Age verification requirement change: To verify a child’s age for entrance to PreK, kindergarten, or grades 1-12, a parent or guardian may present a passport, a hospital birth record or physician’s​ certificate, a baptismal or religious certificate, an adoption record, health records,​ immunization records, immigration records, previously verified school records, early​ childhood screening records, Minnesota Immunization Information Connection records, or​ an affidavit from a parent.​

Scholarship participation requirement extended 4 years: In order to be eligible to accept an early childhood scholarship, a program must be 3 or 4-star rated by July 1, 2024.

Limitation on Preschool Suspensions: Requires that school districts not dismiss children participating in PreK programs, unless non-exclusionary discipline options have been exhausted and only in circumstances where there is an ongoing serious safety threat to the child or others.

Tribal agencies addition to intervention committees. Adds tribal health and human service agencies to interagency early intervention committees that coordinate work between school districts, special education cooperatives, counties, early childhood care and education programs, and agencies serving families experiencing homelessness to develop programs to identify and provide care for children with disabilities.

Preschool screening exceptions: Allows an early learning scholarship recipient who receives the scholarship before turning three to delay completion of their developmental screening until up to 90 days after the child’s third birthday. (HF 163)

The Senate DFL members were largely shut out of the education debate this session by the Republican chair. Only three DFL bills were heard – only one authored by a committee member – and none of those passed. The governor’s policy bill was also ignored and never heard during the session.

Essential school workers left out in the cold

Some of the most essential school employees have been hurt the most by the COVID-19 pandemic, and the Republicans ensured that they would not get paid during the distance learning weeks at the end of the school year. They refused to hear the bill in the Senate Education Committee, and when an amendment was proposed to add it to a different education bill, that bill was tabled.

According to MDE, there are 20,000 paraprofessionals working in schools across Minnesota. Paraprofessionals are individuals who work in a variety of positions in a school district. Their roles include, but are not limited to, instructional assistants, Title I paraprofessionals, pupil support assistants, special education paraprofessionals, job coaches, lunchroom and playground assistants, hall monitors, media center assistants, and health office assistants.

The bill provided compensation for hourly school employees and allows entities that contract with schools to provide services be reimbursed for paying their employees for changes in school employment practices related to COVID-19 school closures and the conversion to distance learning programs. However, many districts laid off their hourly or contract workers (such as bus drivers). Note that these same school districts had budgeted to pay for these workers and that state aid flowed to their districts despite the pandemic and subsequent layoffs.

Other DFL-supported bills that were shut down by the Republican Senate Majority

Anti-school lunch shaming: A bill with House Republican support that would ensure students with unpaid school lunch debt would still receive meals and not be shamed for their parent’s lack of payment didn’t make it over the finish line again this session. The legislation:

  • Requires districts to have a meal plan policy provided in multiple languages
    • Requires districts to provide meals to participating students in a respectful manner and conform to the school meals policy
    • No meal dumping
    • No debt collection agencies
    • Debt collection communications with parents/guardians, not students

Permanent School Trust fund replacement aid for tribal schools: Each September, Minnesota public schools receive about $30 per student from the Permanent School Trust fund endowment. The bill would have made tribal contract and grant schools eligible for the per pupil aid as well.

American Indian program changes: Requires the MDE commissioner to consult with the Tribal Nations Education Committee when revising the academic standards and make them more inclusive and responsive to native cultures.

Increase Teachers of Color Act: Minnesota’s student population is changing, but its teacher workforce is not. About 30 % of the state’s K-12 students are students of color, but 94% of the teachers are white. Once again, a bill that would set a goal of increasing percentage of Minnesota teachers of color and American Indian teachers by 2% per year with an aim of having teachers reflect student diversity by 2040 was ignored by the Republicans.