You’re probably thinking that catchy Schoolhouse Rock! song can sum up the process of turning an idea into a bill into a law. When it comes to the Minnesota Legislature, you can toss that idea out the window.
Take the student teacher placement bill, for which MinnCAN has been advocating. This bill would ensure student teachers are partnered with mentor teachers who are best equipped to train them. A seemingly uncontroversial and common sense bill, right? Well, not quite.
This bill comes from months of research from the National Council on Teacher Quality’s attempts to answer the question, “How can we advance the quality of our teaching corps?” The answer, in part: train future teachers by partnering them with highly effective teachers. MinnCAN took this recommendation, had conversations with several policymakers and educators and helped draw up legislation. Next stop… The House of Representatives.
Rep. Linda Slocum (DFL 50A) led the attempt to author and pass this bill through the House. But before any committee discusses a bill publicly, each political party meets to discuss the merits of the legislation. This is called a caucus, and only members are allowed.
In caucus, a few legislators opposed the student teacher placement bill, pressuring Rep. Slocum to pull it from consideration so they wouldn’t have to take a vote that requires implementing teacher evaluations and acknowledging that some teachers require professional development and remedial training while determining with which teachers a student teacher should be placed. But we still had a chance at having the House consider the legislation.
Nearly every year, the chair of each committee puts together a huge bill that includes several other bills–also known as the chair’s omnibus–and we wanted the student teacher placement bill to be included in the House Education Policy omnibus.
Rep. John Benson (DFL 44B) picked up the torch and tried to get the bill into the omnibus. But first, you guessed it; the bill was discussed in caucus where those same few legislators argued fiercely against the bill, blocking it from being included in the chair’s omnibus.
Now to the Senate…
Sen. John Hoffman (DFL 36), chief author in the Senate, asked the committee to discuss the bill so he and community stakeholders could discuss why it’s needed. Unfortunately, the chair of the Education Policy Committee refused to consider it.
In the same process as the House, the Senate chair also has an omnibus bill. Sen. Brandon Petersen (GOP 35) asked the committee to consider the student teacher bill and place it into the omnibus bill. The committee voted it down (5 to 7).
Now, the student teacher bill waits for its next chance to be discussed and get a vote–along with hundreds of other bills.
As advocates for strong public education, it’s crucial that we bring our voices to the Capitol. To pass even simple policies—that should probably have no opposition—we need supporters to call their legislators. It might be tough to follow every bill you care about, but a simple call or email to your elected official to show them that it’s important to you will grease the wheels to pass your favorite ideas into law.
We’re grateful for the several hundred Minnesotans who have rallied behind this simple, but meaningful opportunity to strengthen teacher training.