No controversy found to be controversial


Conference committee members worked to keep controversial elements out of the omnibus education policy bill, but those changes were not enough for Gov. Tim Pawlenty. He vetoed the bill May 13, which would have done everything from adding new reporting measures for schools to making hockey the state sport.

Rep. Carlos Mariani (DFL-St. Paul), who chairs the House E-12 Education Committee and sponsors the bill along with Sen. Chuck Wiger (DFL-Maplewood), said he was puzzled by the reasons the governor gave for the veto.

“There were a lot of polarizing and dynamic issues that we kept out of the bill,” he said, including sex-ed and a provision to opt out of the federal No Child Left Behind mandate. “Quite frankly I think the governor was just looking for excuses to veto a good bill,” Mariani said.

People are not as concerned about the politics as much as they are that good minds are working on legislation that benefits children, he said. “Our policy bill was a very strong yes to that,” he said.

The governor called the bill a step backward for education accountability. In his veto letter, he cited unfunded mandates and a lack of bipartisan support for the bill as reasons for the veto.

HF3316/SF3001* included two growth-based reporting measures, which would have been added to the school report cards mandated by the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

Pawlenty wrote that he would like to see growth models measured against “world class achievement” standards; adding that growth-based models could mask underperforming schools and these reporting measures would be confusing.

Mariani said the bill was a sound one, addressing overweight young people and the growing race-based gap. “We pretend it’s not there, but it’s there,” he said.

One part of the bill, which was a combination of House and Senate language, would have kept students in school from the time they were in first grade until they were 18. Currently, children under age 7 are exempted from attendance requirements and students can drop out of school at age 16.

Pawlenty wrote that this was a good idea, but said the bill did not account for unintended consequences, such as “additional space and material needs, added truancy enforcement, and additional per-pupil funding.”

Pawlenty was supportive of reading and literacy language in the bill, which was included as part of the Senate language.

However, he cited a section that called for the Education Department to adopt state and district technology standards, a provision requiring the department to encourage schools and districts to submit individual plans to close the achievement gap and a number of task forces and reporting requirements as unfunded mandates.

Other provisions in the bill include:

• parents or guardians could designate someone else to participate in school conferences involving their child, and that person would have access to the same information that a parent would have;

• teachers would have been required to receive instruction in American Indian education relating to teaching information about history and culture as well as practices for successfully teaching American Indian students;

• before being granted a license, teaching students would have had to successfully complete an assessment of reading instruction;

• the current P-16 partnership would have expanded to a P-20 partnership that would have provided a seamless transition from pre-school through graduate school, rather than college; and

• high school students would have been required to take half a credit of physical education, though students who demonstrated mastery of the subject or participate in another athletic opportunity, including sports, would not have had to participate.

The governor was silent on whether to make hockey the state sport, which created controversy when the bill was considered on the House floor.

Rep. Bud Heidgerken (R-Freeport) took offense to the designation, saying this would be a problem for coaches of other sports, especially in small schools. “It’s a slap in the face for hockey to be the official sport.”

Rep. Dean Urdahl (R-Grove City) didn’t see it that way.

“What we’re saying is that hockey is unique to Minnesota. This is the birthplace of American hockey.”

Many items the governor had voiced concern about were removed by a conference committee, including an appeal process for Adequate Yearly Progress mandated under No Child Left Behind; creation of a transitional three-year period in which high school seniors who fail the Graduation-Required Assessments for Diploma would be able to appeal and possibly still graduate; and a proposal to opt out of the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

One item that garnered intense debate on the House floor was addressed by Sen. Sandy Pappas (DFL-St. Paul) during conference committee. She told conferees that she was “deeply disappointed” that the Responsible Family Life and Sexuality Education Programs language sponsored by Rep. Neva Walker (DFL-Mpls) wasn’t included in the bill. It would have required school districts to offer responsible family life and sexuality education that is age-appropriate and medically accurate for grades seven through 12.

She said this was the first year that this issue had passed the House and Senate by significant margins.

“Members, this issue isn’t going to go away,” she said.