Week 2 – Districts Speak, Policy Bill Reviewed

House Education Finance hears from School District Officials

School district officials from around the state were asked to speak to the House Education Finance Committee on various topics related to last year’s education funding and policy bill. Brandon Lunak, Superintendent of Moorhead Public Schools and Matt Hillman of Northfield Public Schools were two voices from outside the metro area asked to speak. Lunak discussed the flexibility Moorhead (and Fergus Falls) was given to use the Health & Safety program to upgrade an HVAC system in a newly acquired facility that has now been converted into a CTE center. He added that the legislature should take additional steps to provide more flexibility for all districts to use Health & Safety to upgrade critical infrastructure like roofs and HVAC systems. A proposal to do just that was included in the Governor’s budget recommendations last session, but didn’t make it across the finish line.

Superintendent Hillman discussed the positive impact that forecasting inflation on the basic education allowance will have. Forecasted increases on the formula will help districts be more planful in the budget process. He recommended that other revenue like LTFM should be considered for inflationary indexing as well. Several district officials noted the positive impact of science-based literacy instruction, the need for the state to allow time for this to develop and that additional revenues to support staff compensation and district curriculum purchases would be helpful.

MDE Policy Bill Reviewed

MDE’s policy bill was reviewed last week. Contrary to last session’s bill, which was loaded with new policy provisions, this year’s version is mostly technical “clean-up” of various statutes.

One section is an eye catcher, though, titled “Book Banning Prohibited.” This section states that the governing body of a library, including school libraries, therefore a school board, “may not ban, remove, or otherwise restrict access to a book or other material based on the viewpoint, content, message, idea, or opinion conveyed.” It further requires the book and material collection decisions of the library must be overseen by a “Qualified Librarian” as defined by:

(1) a licensed library media specialist under Minnesota Rules, part 8710.4550;

(2) an individual with a master’s degree in library sciences or library and information sciences; or

(3) a professional librarian or a person trained in library collection management in accordance with the policies under the American Library Association’s Library Bill of Rights.

(b) Collection management decisions must be made in accordance with the American Library Association’s Library Bill of Rights.

The bill says a school board may not discriminate against or discipline a librarian or other professional overseeing a library collection under subdivision 2 based solely on their collection management decisions.

This section does not limit any authority of a librarian or other professional overseeing a library collection under subdivision 2 authority to decline to purchase, lend, shelve, or to remove or restrict access to books or other materials as part of regular collection development practice.

Nothing in this section impairs or limits the rights of a parent, guardian, or adult student to request a content challenge under the ‘parental curriculum review’ section of law (120B.20). Even with this protection for parents, GOP lawmakers expressed concern that this new law will spark more debate and dissent between parents and school district officials. They questioned the title of the new law, indicating it felt like a political headline grabber. They also argued that schools and public libraries have built processes and procedures to deal with book challenges and argued the state doesn’t need to be involved.