House, Senate pass education policy bill


An omnibus education policy bill came back into play on the last day of the legislative session.

The House passed HF1381*/ SF1167, sponsored by Rep. Sondra Erickson (R-Princeton) and Sen. Gen Olson (R-Minnetrista), 73-59 as amended by a conference committee earlier in the day. The Senate passed it 38-27. It now goes to the governor.

A controversial third grade retention requirement for students not reading at grade level was removed, but promoting literacy by fourth grade remains a cornerstone of the bill, Erickson said.

Beginning in the 2011-12 school year, the bill would require assessments and reading interventions for students not at literacy levels for their grade beginning in kindergarten, require parent notification and promote their involvement, and require staff development for elementary teachers to learn effective, evidence-based methods of reading instruction based on five literacy components: phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension.

DFL members were supportive of the changes to the literacy provision, but opposed other provisions.

“It pains me to get up and oppose the motion to adopt the report,” said Rep. Carlos Mariani (DFL-St. Paul), a member of the conference committee. He said a proposed pilot program for some school districts to join in a shared resources partnership raises many unanswered questions about labor practices, governance, attendance boundaries and fiscal and academic accountability.

A House provision that would exempt some students in St. Louis County schools that will close from Minnesota High School League eligibility rules didn’t make it into the conference report.

Erickson said the provision was removed at the request of the Education Department.

Rep. Tom Rukavina (DFL-Virginia) expressed disappointment that students or parents in the “geographically challenged” district might have to drive hundreds of miles a week if they want to play sports, instead of being able to open enroll in a closer district and retain eligibility. “I didn’t know the high school league and the Department of Education ran the Legislature.”

Rep. Kim Norton (DFL-Rochester) opposed an increased reporting requirement about students who need remedial education. She said it would cost the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system and the University of Minnesota approximately $300,000 each.

Erickson said that a MnSCU lobbyist had not expressed grave concerns about the proposal and that they already collect the data.

Other provisions would: establish performance-based principal evaluation requirements; update charter school law; increase from 2,000 to 6,000 the population of a school district required to hire a licensed community education director; provide some home school mandate relief; add members to the Permanent School Fund Advisory Committee; and establish full-service school zones.