In the very near future Governor Dayton will receive H.F. 1870, a bill that would use Minnesota’s new teacher evaluation system to protect great teachers from layoffs. Right now, the H.F. 1870 conference committee is resolving minor differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill. They met for the third time yesterday, where Minnesota Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius fielded the committee members’ questions.
Here’s a play-by-play of what happened:
Weary of the legislation, the commissioner repeated throughout her testimony that the status quo (seniority-based layoffs) are working fine, and voiced a few concerns:
- Minnesota school districts need more local control when it comes to staffing decisions: “They’ve been in the classroom. They’ve seen those teachers.”
- The bill needs to be a bipartisan effort.
- Whether or not school principals are prepared to contribute to teacher evaluations, and thus affect layoff decisions.
DFL and GOP members of the conference committee matched the commissioner’s criticisms with numerous points of clarification and resounding support for great teachers:
- DFL Senator Bonoff said that leveraging Minnesota’s new teacher evaluation system as the default layoff model would remove the seniority mandate and restore some local control to school districts. She also underscored the benefits for minority teachers: seniority-based layoffs disproportionately affect minority teachers, who tend to be untenured.
- House author Rep. Petersen called the commissioner’s support for Minnesota’s outdated layoff system an “extreme minority” and renewed his commitment to consider further bipartisan language, and clarified that he’s been open to – and accepted – alternative language from both sides of the aisle already.
- Rep. Erickson cited Minnesota’s No Child Left Behind waiver, which promises to further efforts to place strong principals in schools. The waiver is already in effect and lasts for three years, lending to fair teacher evaluations and layoff reform.
- Senator Wolf, author of the bill’s Senate version, responded to MDE’s and Education Minnesota’s claim that seniority is an orderly process, in that an orderly process does not make it a good process and it has nothing to do with what is best for students.
The conference committee will likely meet again before Governor Dayton receives the bill. As Senator Bonoff emphasized, the discussion must change from “not now” to “how can we do this,” and attempts to delay the bill by saying “now is not the right time” are no longer acceptable.