As noted prior to session’s start, the pandemic brought into stark contrast the varying inequities in Minnesota’s public school system. As distance learning became the norm, schools had to deal with students who lacked the hardware to participate in virtual classroom learning as well as the inability for some students to access the internet due to spotty broadband/WIFI services.

School staff, parents, and teachers also felt the weight of this “new normal” as they had to navigate a different landscape for students. And, because many families rely on school nutrition services to feed their families the change in academic schedules proved a hardship for many. School budgets were also hit as fees for community education and childcare dropped off and many parents either chose to homeschool their children or hold back kindergarten students until next year.

Despite seven special sessions, the Senate Republican majority held no hearings to discuss the serious issues facing schools and refused to pass bills to help school districts, especially with technology/broad band, declining enrollment and learning loss. Instead, they blamed the governor for closing schools during the worst pandemic in 100 years.

Senate Republicans education target underfunds schools and cuts school investments

Senate Republican budget targets for E-12 education underfunds by roughly $350 million the amount needed for schools to avoid budget cuts for the coming two years.  The Senate republicans are proposing a $152 million E-12 education budget increase, which will fund only the bare minimum formula increase for school following a historic year of tremendous challenges and needs.

Governor’s Due North Plan fully funds education and helps students, families and schools

Schools will need additional investments to recover from the pandemic education learning loss. The governor’s Due North plan provides additional funding for the basic formula, which is the main school budget driver, summer programming, nutrition expanded PreK, mental health supports and school support personnel and teacher mentoring programs. The $832.5 million investment (FY22-23) helps cover inflationary increases and provides districts with the tools to help students get up to speed as school move back to in-person learning.

The Senate DFL introduced bills that would pump money into summer school programs and other COVID-19 relief measures. The bills were not heard in committee or discussed by Senate Republicans and requests by the governor to quickly pass summer school funding bills were ignored by the Senate Republican committee chair.

Teachers of Color Act would enhance Minnesota’s teaching ranks

The Coalition to Increase Teachers of Color and American Indian Teachers (TOCAIT) has been working on legislative proposals for the past five years. Although the Legislature has made some small steps Minnesota’s teaching ranks are still over 90% white with a growing student population that is 38% students of color. The bill heard in committee would provide an additional $7 million to enhance student teaching grants, teacher shortage loan forgiveness, hiring bonuses, Grow Your Own programs and creation of a state goal to increase the percentage of teachers of color.  The bill has bipartisan support in the Minnesota Senate.

Governor’s summer school funding bill heard; no action taken despite April 15 deadline

The governor’s summer school proposal was heard in committee, but no action was taken despite the administration’s request that fund be passed by April 15. The $57.5 million in federal funds to expand summer programs with small class sizes, longer programing and transportation for students. The proposal also creates community partnerships to offer enrichment programs. The bill also provides additional funding for expanded summer PreK, mental health supports, field trips, neighborhood summer programs and pandemic enrollment loss.

Governor’s budget would provide formula increase, school support staff, PreK funding

 The governor’s revised E-12 proposal would provide just over $832 million in new funding for schools (FY22-23) and give a much-needed boost to the basic formula of 1% and 2.5% each year of the biennium. It would also provide funding for school mental health support staff (counselors, social workers, school nurses, chemical dependency counselors, etc.) and funds to make sure 4,000 students can continue to attend preschool. The bill was heard in the E-12 Education Committee, but no action was taken on any of the funding proposals.

Senate Republican voucher scheme would cost the state millions

The Senate Republican Educational Savings Account (ESA) proposal is a thinly veiled voucher scheme that would provide state dollars to parents to pay for private E-12 school and post-secondary school services for students to entice parents away from public schools and reward them for doing so.

Educational services include private school tuition, tutoring and electronic devices such as computers and iPads. After using state dollars to buy electronic devices, parents would own them as opposed to public schools where the devices are only on loan to students. This is a dramatic departure from what the state currently allows for use of public dollars. The money would be siphoned away from public schools to pay for the non-public school education services.

ESA funds could be used to pay for college tuition, fees and books. Also, any funds remaining after a student graduated from high school could be used for post-secondary costs. There are no income or other fiscal guardrails on this, so all Minnesota families would be eligible, no matter their income. The amount parents would receive is based on the statewide average general education revenue per student of roughly $9,311 per student and necessary aid for special education services and instruction, which could range as high as $50,000.

Senate Republican “COVID-19 relief” amounts to $0

Prior to the midsession break, Senate Republicans passed a series of bills billed as COVID-19 relief for schools. The bills provide no additional funding for schools but would allow under-qualified persons without a rigorous background check to fill in for classroom teachers and halted the social studies standards revision even though schools have said they want standards revisions to move ahead. None of these bills provided additional funding for schools.

Senate Republicans also passed a bill that has no practical effect as it requires schools to administer statewide tests, which are already mandated by the state and required by federal law.

School calendars could reflect community religious observances

School boards would be required to notify parents about school religious observance absence policy and to consider a community’s religious observances when creating the school calendar. The bill is effective for the 2021-2022 school year and later.

This bill is supported by numerous religious groups as our student population becomes more diverse both ethnically and religiously. The bill is designed to prompt school districts to be aware of all religious holidays their students might observe.

Youngest learners not allowed to be dismissed from school

A bill discussed in the E-12 Education Committee would not allow school administrators to dismiss kindergarten to grade 3 students unless non-exclusionary discipline measures have been exhausted and there is an ongoing serious safety threat to the child or others.

Studies have shown that students of color are expelled at higher rates than their white counterparts. Students of color are disproportionately affected by these sorts of discipline. The Department of Human Rights found they were twice as likely to be suspended or expelled as their white peers. Some Minnesota school districts suspend more elementary school children than middle or high school students. The bill was laid over for possible inclusion in an Omnibus Education Bill.

Civics education may get its day in the classroom

Legislation that would require 11th or 12th grade high school students to take a for-credit course in citizenship and government before graduation could finally become law. The bill matches one that was included in the House Education Policy Bill.

An advanced placement, international baccalaureate or other rigorous course on government or citizenship would also fulfill the new requirement. The new course would be part of the social studies’ standard requirements in state law. The bill also adds a personal finance course to fulfill the social studies requirements.