Session to focus on policy issues

The 2020 Minnesota legislative session begins Feb. 11, and while it’s not a budgeting year, there will be plenty of policy bills and some funding debates.

The state reported a $1 billion budget surplus this December, which could be used this session to fund education proposals not addressed last year.

“One of the best investments of this larger-than-expected surplus is in a place Minnesotans clearly support—our public schools,” Education Minnesota President Denise Specht said, after the surplus number was released.

Specht outlined specific ways some of the surplus could be invested:

Expand training and encourage retention of Minnesota’s education support professionals, the educators who hold our schools together.

Broaden access to full-service community schools, which are a proven way to help students achieve in school. This concept puts social, medical and before- and after-school academic services and enrichment activities where they are most accessible—on the school campus.

Fully fund the Teachers of Color Act, sponsored by the Coalition to Increase Teachers of Color and American Indian Teachers in Minnesota, which includes increasing starting salaries and creating loan forgiveness and mentorship programs.

Strengthen mental health supports for our students, including restoring student support staff cuts, adding more counselors, social workers, psychologists, nurses and other job classifications back into our schools.

These investments represent a good first step toward fully funding our schools, which needs to happen in the next budget cycle with the 2021 legislative session, Specht said.

“The chronic underfunding of public education in Minnesota demands billions of dollars in new investments to guarantee every Minnesota student—no matter what they look like or where they live—has an equitable opportunity for a great education,” Specht said.

Education Minnesota will also be working on fixing the tiered-licensure system and expanding worker freedoms this session.

In 2017, state lawmakers drastically reduced the requirements to teach in Minnesota classrooms. The bill that will be pushed this session restores Minnesota’s high standards for a teaching license; elevates teachers and keeps them in the classroom; and honors teacher preparation while recognizing different pathways into teaching.

The union will also be pushing for workplace protections for educators and protections for the education profession.

Education Minnesota is working on the following:

Expanding the list of mandatory subjects of bargaining to include things like class sizes and setting safe student-to-staff ratios for ESPs who work with students.

Amending the tiered licensure law to include Tier 1 teachers in the teacher bargaining unit.

Ensuring all early childhood positions in public schools require licensure, and therefore guarantee that the educators in these positions have collective bargaining rights and the opportunity to earn tenure or continuing contract rights.

Deleting the exclusion of ECFE and ABE teachers from coverage under the continuing contract and tenure rights laws.

Educators should get to know the names of the chairs of the education committees. It is the job of each committee to hold public hearings on bills, put each bill into its best form and to recommend only those bills that the committee feels merit further consideration. Committee chairs can control who is able to testify and the overall discussion of a bill.

Senate E-12 Finance and Policy Chair: Carla Nelson, R-Rochester

House Education Finance Chair: Jim Davnie, DFL-Minneapolis

House Education Policy Chair: Cheryl Youakim, DFL-Hopkins