Update for March 18: Breathless

/ 18 March 2016 / Shawna

Schools can’t do it alone. That is the number one pillar of education reform.”

Sondra Samuels, President and CEO, Northside Achievement Zone

If this is your first Update, welcome! If you have been with us for many years, thank you.

One of the most important functions of these Updates is to share current legislative activities regarding potential policy making with parents across Minnesota. While we have a diverse and far reaching database, we are always looking to broaden the number of people “in the know.” Please share our Update with friends whom you believe will benefit from the information!

At the Capitol

Education policy hearings are being held night and day in the House. Chairs are attempting to move every bill that may have a chance of making it into a possible 2016 Education Omnibus policy bill before the first bill deadline.*

In policy, expect a requirement that teachers have one hour of suicide prevention training and anticipate something on student data privacy. What this will encompass is yet to be determined and judging from the array of bills dealing with this issue, is something to be watched very closely.

Driven by last week’s OLA report and recommendations to improve Minnesota’s teacher licensing process, several bills are calling for a working group to determine how to move forward. According to that report many issues plaguing the system were brought about by legislators attempting to “fix” problems in a piece-meal fashion, so the intent of a work group is to provide a cohesive solution.

In the Senate, a testing transparency bill SF2604 was met with great interest, since the authors and testifiers outlined a great many requirements–many from the testing company with whom Minnesota has a contract—that are hampering teachers’ and families’ opportunities to help students learn from taking the tests. Data privacy has a role here as well, since the testing companies appear to have a great deal of leeway with our students’ data.

Meanwhile House Education Finance is listening to updates and reports, not surprising since there has been no word WHEN or IF House leadership will expend money for education, and you can‘t spend what leadership won’t give you!

Testifiers offer heartening reports to legislators that show children in a variety of education partnerships that have been appropriated additional funding. Those receiving Early Learning Scholarships are also doing very well with notable gains in achievement.

It is not surprising, however, since focused attention, more time and dollars are being expended to get these results. Perhaps, our state can learn something from this?

We must be working to scale these programs to meet the challenge of the magnitude of the problem we need to address. – Rep Tim Kelly (R) Red Wing

SF2308 is a bill we would like to highlight. It is the result of a group of parents/teachers who are trying to get help for students with dyslexia–Decoding Dyslexia. The bipartisan bill requires a specialist at the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) as well as on staff at each of Minnesota’s 6 Regional Centers of Excellence. This specialist would have a deep understanding of the issue and train teachers in ways to identify and teach children struggling to learn to read.

The fact that it is parents who are working through the system to deal with an issue plaguing so many families is reason enough to highlight the effort, but the statistics on dyslexia are astounding! Read more.

It is estimated that 80% of students with reading difficulties have some form of dyslexia. Using my school as an example, as many as 70 kids could be dyslexic yet not one student who struggles severely with reading had a dyslexia diagnosis…If we hope to help break the cycle of poverty we also need to break the cycle of illiteracy due to dyslexia. – Maureen Wosepka, school nurse and parent of a dyslexic student.

Another bill we’d like to call out is HF2813 (Erickson-R-Princeton) The bill creates a directory of cross-references to statutes governing parental rights in education. This is a “go to” bill for parents.

*April 1stThe first deadline is for committees to act favorably on bills in the house of origin.”

A bill in the media

One bill that has been drawing a lot of media attention is the Support our Students Act, authored by Senator Susan Kent (DFL-Woodbury). At first glance, one would cheer this bill. In fact, over twenty hopeful school support staff were present at the hearing to support S.F. 1364. They spoke to the needs that overwhelmed school counselors are attempting to address: trauma, homelessness, hunger, mental health problems, post-secondary guidance, to name a few. Our concern is that this bill puts a bandage on a broken spine.

The bill appropriates $20 million over six years in competitive grants to fix a glaring need among Minnesota’s one million students. Grants will only be appropriated to districts that provide a match.

The bill author suggested, “After six years districts will continue [to fund it] because they will see the value.” After the 6 year matched grant period, continued cost would need to be borne solely by the school district’s existing budget.

Every school in the state needs more support staff, but if every district received this grant the $20 million would amount to approximately $3 per year, per student; hardly the amount needed to pull Minnesota out of 50th place in the nation for our counselor-pupil ratio. As well intentioned as it is, this solution just doesn’t match the need.

Governor’s Budget

You may have heard the Governor released his budget this week. “His budget” is the executive office’s recommendations on how to use the state surplus of $900 million. Because it is unpredictable if a surplus will be there again the next year, you will see the Governor tend to spend most of the surplus on one-time initiatives.

Although the education items it funds are laudable, there is disappointment among education stakeholders. Expenditures are allotted for 15 initiatives, many focused upon early education, equity and teacher development. It expands Help Me Grow, lays groundwork for Voluntary PreK, addresses the teacher shortage, and includes some money for full-service community schools, among others. What it funds to the tune of zero dollars is the per pupil formula, which offers districts more flexible spending. This is surprising in an election year. When this happens, we see cuts to programs. We may also see cost shifting meant to obscure the lack of increased per pupil spending. Read an itemized Governor’s Budget Recommendations.

ESSA and Minnesota

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) signed into law on December 10, 2015 is still awaiting implementation rules from the Department of Education. However, Minnesota is moving forward soliciting input from stakeholders in Topic Area Meetings throughout April and May. Topics being considered: English learners, early learners, foster care and homeless youth; weaving social- emotional learning and building healthier learning environments; family engagement; standards and assessments as well as Minnesota’s accountability system–all will be impacted.

A Look Ahead

  • House Education Finance will hear HF2695 (Runbeck) dyslexia specialists bill, the companion to Chamberlain’s SF2308, on Tuesday.
  • Tuesday we’ll hear a handful of bills in Senate Education to recruit and retain teachers, particularly teachers of color.
  • SF2323 (Brown) will be heard in Senate Ed on Thursday, requiring expulsion of any student who assaults a teacher.
  • Both House and Senate education committees will hear bills to expand early learning and home visit scholarships.

Worth a Second Look

The teacher Licensure Audit makes recommendations but does not address basic skills testing of teacher candidates, among other concerns: more from Mistilina Sato of the University of Minnesota.

As you read above, Minnesota schools rank low in the nation for student support. Read more about The Support our Students Act.



What is Parents United’s agenda? Our agenda is simple: we don’t speak for parents, but work to provide credible, timely information about education policy and the law-making process so parents can speak for themselves. Parents United is a translator of complex terms and policy implications, as well as a navigator for a legislative process often oblique to the public.