House passes education policy bill


Empowering parents, improving teaching and learning, and increasing student achievement are the goals of an omnibus education policy bill.

Sponsored by House Education Reform Committee Chairwoman Sondra Erickson (R-Princeton), HF1381 was passed 74-55 by the House. It goes next to the Senate, where Sen. Gen Olson (R-Minnetrista) is the sponsor.

The bill’s hallmark is a literacy plan that would require students to repeat third grade if they are not reading at grade level and provide instructional supports for struggling readers starting in kindergarten.

Rep. Jim Davnie (DFL-Mpls) unsuccessfully offered an amendment that would have modified the literacy proposal by focusing on earlier interventions, expanded strategies and removing the retention requirement.

He called the bill’s retention proposal “a top-down, one-size-fits-all government knows best approach to teaching reading to our primary students,” and said earlier interventions are more effective than holding students back.

“Our goal is to have no third grader remediated. Our goal is to have all children reading when they enter fourth grade,” Erickson said.

Required to be in the “Getting Prepared” report produced by the University of Minnesota and Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system would be data on whether students who enroll in college are prepared, and whether they have special education backgrounds. Because of the provision, Rep. Terry Morrow (DFL-St. Peter) moved unsuccessfully to send the bill to the House Higher Education Policy and Finance Committee. He said the institutions should have a say in spending money they don’t have in a year of record cuts to higher education.

Other provisions include: three members would be added to the Permanent School Fund Advisory Committee including two members of the minority party and one with expertise in school finances; a career and technical education requirement could count toward science credits needed for graduation; certain home school reporting mandates would be lifted; and candidates for teacher licensure would have to pass basic skills exams in reading, writing and math.

Rep. Mindy Greiling (DFL-Roseville) said that although the bill contains some good proposals, she would vote no because the Davnie amendment was not adopted, and because the bill would prohibit the education commissioner form adopting common core standards, a national set of academic standards.

Rep. Keith Downey (R-Edina) successfully amended the bill to include a proposal to create a pilot program for school districts to share administrative and curriculum development activities.

 “This is precisely the kind of innovation we’re looking for in our education system,” said Rep. Kelby Woodard (R-Belle Plaine).

Some DFL members opposed the Downey amendment. Morrow said one provision that would allow districts to operate as though they were charter schools could open the door for at-will hiring. Greiling also urged a no vote. “At times we have trust in this body that we’re going to do things in moderation. But I don’t have that trust this year with all that anti-teacher legislation that’s going through this year.”

Other DFLers successfully offered amendments, including one by Rep. Kim Norton (DFL-Rochester) to allow the Education Department to help school districts identify age-appropriate mental health curriculum; another to create a tiered licensure advisory task force by Rep. Kory Kath (DFL-Owatonna); and one allowing an exception for students from some St. Louis County schools which will close to be eligible to play varsity sports at a new school where they enroll if they don’t change their residence. That was offered by Rep. David Dill (DFL-Crane Lake).

A lengthy debate ensued on the Minnesota State High School League transfer rule in response to an amendment unsuccessfully offered by Rep. Peggy Scott (R-Andover) to allow students who transfer for certain reasons, including their parents’ loss of ability to pay for a nonpublic school, to be eligible for varsity sports at their new school.