In January we launched our 2013 policy goals and rallied Minnesotans to join us in reimagining public education. It came on the heels of President Obama's State of the Union, where he underscored the need for increasing access to quality pre-K and making sure every kid leaves high school ready to succeed.
As the local reform foot soldiers, we’re happy to report several wins this legislative session. We also had some hard-fought losses. And none of what we accomplished would have been possible without you and the 7,000 other Minnesotans who supported us.
Building off of our previous work, our 2013 goals represented the next steps to a Minnesota where every child has access to a great public school:
- Increase access to quality pre-K
- Cultivate a high-quality public charter school sector through greater accountability, flexibility and support
- Ensure schools have and support a great teacher in every classroom
In addition to legislative wins (which I’ll get to in just a minute), our state celebrated an unrivaled investment in public education: $15.7 billion for the 2014-15 biennium. That $485 million increase boosts per-pupil funding by 1.5 percent for fiscal years 2014 and 2015.
Some say that increased school funding and education reform can’t go hand in hand. But that’s just not true. Investing in education is part of Minnesota’s constitution and more importantly, it’s the right thing to do. The trick is to make that investment wisely so that all kids have the opportunity to succeed. Just as Gov. Dayton says about government, we need it “to work better, to be more efficient and to be more cost-effective.”
Now, our legislative scorecard:
Increasing access to quality pre-K: A WIN
As early adopters of MinneMinds, we helped lead the campaign for increasing access to quality pre-K. This was a natural role for us, following our work helping expand Parent Aware statewide and rallying behind Race to the Top. We also recognize the abundance of research, from The Wilder Foundation to The Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, confirming well-focused investments in quality pre-K offer the public one of the best ROIs.
We’re thrilled to have watched the MinneMinds coalition grow to 70 organizational members in only months. And it was because of the 7,000 people (one-third of whom are MinnCAN supporters) who contacted legislators, wrote letters to the editor and called the governor, that Minnesota is investing $40 million to increase access to quality pre-K for low-income 3- and 4-year-olds.
While historic, this investment isn’t perfect. Just days before the end of the legislative session the Minnesota Department of Education imposed an arbitrary cap on the pre-K scholarships given to families and put limitations on program eligibility.
It’s critical that scholarships work for parents and programs so kids in need have access to quality programs for the duration of the school year. It’s also critical that we expand program eligibility so that this investment incentivizes programs to strive for quality. The work to make these necessary changes starts now.
Strengthening charter schools: FOUR WINS AND A LOSS
Minnesota enacted the nation’s first charter school law in 1991 to give families quality school choices, improve student learning and empower educators to innovate techniques to close the achievement gap. But 21 years and 148 public charter schools later, we're still a ways from meeting those objectives.
But we spearheaded conversations that lent to progress this session:
- Win: In a move to boost accountability, charter authorizers are now required to prepare annual reports to track student achievement, as well as operational and financial performance.
- Win: Charter schools now have more equitable funding. As public schools, they too benefit from the per-pupil funding increases.
- Loss: We went head-to-head with the union for a provision encouraging the closure of charter schools performing in the bottom quartile of all public schools.
- Win: New legislation states “improvement of pupil learning and student achievement” must be the primary purpose of charter schools. Previously, schools chose from amongst six purposes when applying for or renewing their contract. And contracts must declare how schools will carry and report this primary purpose.
- Win: Failure to demonstrate satisfactory academic achievement for all students is now defined clearly as a reason for contract non-renewal or termination.
Supporting great teachers: TWO WINS AND A LOSS
Minnesota is shifting to a culture where effective teaching and student learning are valued above all. And those on the front lines–teachers–are speaking up loudly for policies to strengthen the profession and student achievement. Our recent statewide poll details the voices of 400 teachers who resoundingly support teacher evaluations tied to student learning, professional development reforms and smarter staffing policies. And we moved the needle this session:
- Win: Our testimony helped to bring refined focus to the teacher skills exam, including allowing the Board of Teaching short-term flexibility to offer otherwise qualified teacher candidates up to two one-year limited licenses while they attempt to pass the career entrance exam. We also initiated a department task force to review licensure skills assessments for the long haul. We need to end our one-size-fits-all approach to licensure but maintain safeguards against having unqualified beginning teachers in our schools–and align licensure requirements with the knowledge, skills and mindsets necessary for success in a 21st-century classroom. This is inclusive of teacher preparation programs ensuring licensure requirements are predictive of success in the classroom.
- Win: In response to pleas from Education Minnesota, the Minnesota School Board Association and Minnesota Association of School Administrators, several DFL legislators tried to delay the implementation of Minnesota’s new teacher evaluation system–even after Gov. Dayton recommended $10 million in funding for it.
Despite this last-ditch effort to derail the implementation, we kept it on track. And we couldn’t have done it without the help of the U.S. Department of Education, warning legislators that a delay in the implementation would jeopardize Minnesota’s NCLB waiver. As our research shows, 89 percent of local district teachers say that evaluations aligned with professional development will strengthen student learning.
- Loss: We teamed up with principals to place more Teach For America teachers in high-need communities. Despite bipartisan support, and an offer to match the state’s investment two-to-one with private dollars, Gov. Dayton line item vetoed the appropriation. As a result, Minnesota has taken two steps backwards to place stellar, diverse teachers where they’re needed the most.
Overall we’re thrilled at what we accomplished this year. Thanks to people like you, who are asking for a stronger, better, more efficient and a more cost-effective system, more Minnesota kids will be on track than ever before.
I don’t know about you, but we can’t wait for next year’s campaign.