The House and Senate Policy committees passed last week education omnibus policy bills after receiving testimony and adding a series of amendments.

  • The House billHF 1376, should provide a sign of relief for many MREA school administrators as there is not much for new mandates or reporting. The bill takes a deliberate step back from proposing major new initiatives, according to Erickson. She said it is the shortest omnibus education policy bill in years.
  • The Senate bill,  SF1222, contains many of the same measures as the House’s version with a few notable differences, including some controversial language about public-religious school partnerships and no e-learning program for inclement weather.

This marks the first key legislative deadline which concludes the bulk of the work of the House and Senate policy committees for the session.

E-Learning Addition

A new idea in the House bill would enable school districts to provide up to five “E-learning days” due to inclement weather. Its enactment could mean the death of the student “snow day.”

It would not require districts to mandate E-learning days, but would instead empower them to begin implementing them if they choose. One concern is the lack of high-speed broadband internet connectivity throughout rural Minnesota.

Sen. Clausen offered this “E-Learning” idea an amendment to the Senate omnibus bill,  but he eventually withdrew it after being assured by Chairman Pratt that it would soon get a separate bill hearing.

House Bill Overview

Highlights of the House bill include:

  • Replace the high school General Education Development test with a new equivalency test
  • Require school districts to report proficiency rates within performance reports that comply with World’s Best Workforce requirements
  • Modify student open-enrollment policy by creating a tiered priority structure
  • Clarify student use and possession of asthma inhalers to be consistent with statutes governing parental approval regarding the administration of drugs and medicines to students
  • Add transportation of a student to and from a shelter care facility as a reimbursed expense under the pupil transportation formula
  • Repeal the definition of “American Indian child” as a child enrolled in a federally recognized tribe under the American Indian Education Act
  • Add instruction in “citizenship” and “economics” to student instruction curriculum
  • Require teacher licensure data be disaggregated by race
  • Add language to emphasize community involvement in character development education, encouraging districts to integrate it into positive behavior intervention strategy
  • Authorize school districts to renew an annual food service management contract up to four years
  • Require the expanded use of assistive technology in special education with a report due the Legislature by Feb. 15, 2018

The following amendments were adopted to the House bill:

  • Align the term “disabilities” with other state statutory definitions
  • Require an online learning provider not limit enrollment to discriminate against groups
  • Mandate the Department of Education to adopt the most recent Society of Health and Physical Educators benchmark standards for physical education
  • Make corrections to teacher data disaggregation
  • Require a district to make “cultural competency” training opportunities available to teachers

The bill now heads to the Education Finance Committee for review and likely incorporation into their education finance omnibus bill. That deadline in March 31.

Public-Religious School Partnerships

The Senate bill contains some controversial language that is not in the House bill regarding public-religious school partnerships allowing students to take up to one-third of their classes at the religious, or private school. This was its own separate bill, SF 1281, authored by new Sen. Justin Eichorn (R-Grand Rapids), but with some tweaks for the omnibus bill.

It stems from a situation in Alexandria where a newly emerging private, Christian school with a hockey-recruiting focus wants to change state law to accommodate their school’s mission.

There was an amendment offered to strike this language, but it failed on a party-line vote. This will likely continue to be a hot-button point of debate going into conference committee.