Every agenda was packed last week at the Capitol with the first bill deadline, members were moving from committee to committee presenting their bills, and stakeholders from all across the state filled hearing rooms. Agendas changed as bills were removed and added in a whirlwind of negotiations as legislators worked out compromises to pass bills or get them included in omnibus bills.

The Senate Education Policy Committee on Tuesday heard a number of bills on these topics:

  • Excused absences to learn about the military
  • School trust lands
  • Changing the definition of a textbook
  • Homeschool students receiving the same access to online learning
  • Admission policy for charter schools
  • School bond referendums (tabled the previous week)
  • NCLB language

Get the details of the bills and where they stand below:

Excused Absences

Sen. Bruce Anderson started out the hearing presenting a bill that would allow for excused absences for students to seek opportunities or careers in the military. Currently students can be excused from school for college visits. SF 3239 would expand that to include military recruitment visits as well. There was no opposition to the bill and it was laid over for possible inclusion in the Omnibus Education Policy bill.

School Trust Lands

Sen. Greg Clausen presented SF 2845 relating to school trust lands. The language in the bill calls for the Office of Legislative Auditor to do an audit of the school trust fund. There has been discussion for years about how to maximize the revenue we can generate from school trust lands.

Testifiers spoke to the need of the audit to examine the Administrator position, find innovative economic opportunities, and do a feasibility study to see if it would be possible for schools to borrow money from the corpus.

The DNR spoke in favor of the bill and thinks it is time to do an evaluation. Senator Pratt did have concerns about borrowing against the corpus.

The bill passed without dissent and was moved to the State Government Policy and Finance and Elections Committee.

Defining Textbook

SF 3343, authored by Sen. Paul Anderson would make changes to the definition of a textbook. It would allow reimbursement from the non-public pupil aid program for new curriculum that is available. With all of the updated technologies, the change is needed so schools can get reimbursed for the new online opportunities in teaching curriculum beyond the definition of a traditional textbook.

The bill was laid over for possible inclusion in the Omnibus Education Policy bill.

Homeschool & Online Learning

Sen Carrie Rudd presented SF 3335 focused on allowing a homeschool student to access online learning in the same way a public student can. There was no testimony our questions from the committee and the bill passed on to Education Finance.

Admission Policy for Charters

SF 2814, was authored by Sen. John Jasinski, proposes a change to the admission policy for charter schools. His bill seeks an exemption for the city of Nerstrand to allow for a five-mile radius for charter school admission. The local community is closely linked to the charter school and the people in the city want to send their children to the only local school within 20 miles.

Testifiers did bring up a few concerns. They suggested that before there are any more exemptions put into law there needs to be an analysis of enrollment options. The Department of Education also said the Commissioner has been opposed to preference changes because they could actually restrict a charter school’s enrollment.

The bill was laid over for possible inclusion in the Omnibus Education Policy bill.

Bond Referendums

SF 2605 on school bond referendums, initially presented by Sen. Karin Housley, received its second hearing in the committee. Sen. Paul Utke, as a co-author on the senate file, presented the bill in Sen. Housley’s absence. The committee adopted the amendment that was worked out by the stakeholders and Sen. Housley. Testifiers agreed the language took care of the major concerns from the previous hearing and the bill was passed as amended to the Local Government Committee.

NCLB Language

The final bill of the day was SF 3806 authored by Sen. Eric Pratt. This is the Governor’s education policy bill. The bill dealt mainly with cleaning up old NCLB language and clarifying new ESSA standards and modifications to discipline and school safety.

Darrin Korte, Deputy Commissioner for the Department of Education, testified to the language. He talked about changes to transmission of records, dismissal policy changes, and pupil withdrawal agreements. He also talked about the creation of alternative programs before student suspension and minimum and alternative educational services for students who are suspended.

The rationale presented dealt mainly with school safety and how to prevent kids from falling through the cracks. They noted that expulsions have reduced dramatically and they want to provide new policies to continue that trend. The bill was laid over.