Education was one of the hottest topics at the Capitol this year—and when special session ended earlier this month, Minnesota made huge investments and policy changes to strengthen our schools, from increasing the basic per pupil formula to improving teacher licensure.
While there's still work to do to set all kids up for success, we wanted to take a moment to step back and explain to you in more detail how our top legislative priorities played out in 2015.
1. Streamline licensure for out-of-state teachers
For too long, Minnesota’s cumbersome teacher licensure process has turned away experienced, well-trained out-of-state teachers. With the help of school leaders, educators and supporters like you, we pushed to improve and clarify this process, and our efforts had a big impact! Several meaningful policy changes passed the House and Senate with bipartisan support and were signed into law by Gov. Dayton. Among other things, the new law will:
- Provide clarity and transparency to the Board of Teaching's process for reviewing out-of-state licensure applications;
- Honor “similar” out-of-state licenses;
- Grant licensure to experienced out-of-state teachers without requiring that they complete redundant student teaching and coursework; and
- Allow school districts to retain effective educators.
2. Ensure that student teachers have strong mentors
We began working last year to make sure that student teachers have great mentors during their clinical experiences. Thanks to bipartisan support in the House and Senate, and the collaboration of Education Minnesota, Educators 4 Excellence and other advocates, the governor signed into law a policy that will ensure student teachers are paired with mentor educators who have at least three years of classroom experience and are not on a professional improvement plan.
3. Value our best teachers
Although the majority of Minnesotans believe—and research confirms—that teacher performance should guide layoff decisions, our policymakers failed to reform Minnesota’s antiquated quality-blind layoff law. A proposal that would help school leaders keep their best educators during layoffs passed in the House, but did not advance in the Senate nor was it included in the final education omnibus bill. Our latest policy brief illustrates how Minnesota’s teacher layoff law could be improved to better serve both teachers and students—a conversation we will continue to foster.
4. Test less but better
We believe that annual, objective standards-based assessments are a critical tool for measuring student progress and closing achievement gaps. We can keep this baseline for students, parents and teachers while working to limit the time students spend on unhelpful or unnecessary testing. That’s why we pushed back against efforts to trim the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments, which would undermine the collection of objective student performance data. We also supported a newly adopted policy that would limit the time our students can spend on district- and school-adopted tests to no more than 10 hours for grades 1-6 and 11 hours for grades 7-12. These changes—protecting the MCAs and limiting testing time—represent a huge step towards our ultimate goal of testing less but better.
5. Increase access to high-quality pre-K
While most legislators agreed that we should invest more in early learning, they disagreed on how to do so, resulting in one of the most contentious policy debates of the 2015 session. Throughout it all, we remained steadfast in our belief that we should use our state’s limited funds to first ensure that low-income children of any age have access to high-quality, full-day early childhood education opportunities. Thanks to hundreds of emails from our members, and the help of over 100 partners in the diverse MinneMinds coalition, we fought for an equity-based approach to early learning, and ultimately secured an additional $48 million for flexible scholarships for low-income 3- and 4-year-olds, allowing an estimated 9,000 additional low-income kids access to high-quality early learning.
6. Empower charter school authorizers
We believe we can increase charter school quality by giving their authorizers the flexibility to better manage their schools, particularly when they’re not seeing promising results. This session, we advocated for a policy that would give charter school authorizers the option to either close low-performing schools or update the Minnesota Department of Education on how they plan to measure student growth differently from standard metrics. While this would have been a critical step towards ensuring charter transparency, accountability and quality, it was not included in the final education bill. We’ll continue to push for high-quality school options for all Minnesota children, and for the accountability and flexibility that their leaders—whether at charter or district schools—need to be successful.
7. Expand career & technical education
During our 2013 Road to Success statewide tour, we heard from administrators, students, parents and teachers looking for more flexibility to meet high school graduation requirements, as well as greater access to career, technical and college-level courses. We brought those requests to the Capitol, along with research proving that vocational and technical courses can actually improve student learning and increase high school graduation rates, especially among students of color. Thankfully, the Legislature took action this year to:
- Expand concurrent enrollment access to ninth- and tenth-graders;
- Increase funding for concurrent enrollment by more than $4 million over the biennium; and
- Authorize school districts to count advanced placement computer science as a math or science credit.
On behalf of our whole team, and the educators, parents and students who stand with us, THANK YOU for your support during the 2015 session. Advocates like you are absolutely critical to our efforts to advance smart, kid-focused policies to ensure that all Minnesota children attend the great public schools they deserve.