Legislature adjourns with important work left undone

The Minnesota Legislature adjourned May 18 without voting on state employee contracts as they were originally bargained or adopting language to improve the economic security of hourly school employees.

The Senate rejected legislation that would have protected hourly school workers from unnecessary layoffs. Many of those educators are education support professionals, who don’t get the respect they deserve during good times and are the most vulnerable to loss of pay and benefits during uncertain times.

The education finance bill passed does include a directive to the Minnesota Department of Education to prioritize federal funding from the CARES Act to areas that enable a school to comply with Executive Order 20-19 (distance learning), including paying employees.

As of press time, Gov. Tim Walz has announced that Minnesota anticipates receiving $43 million in the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER) funds, and asked that GEER dollars be used to:

  • Prioritizing technology for K-12 students to assist their learning.
  • Summer school programming for students who need additional support over the summer months.
  • Wrap-around supports like those students would receive in a full-service community school.

State Contracts

The Senate also failed to pass contracts originally negotiated last year for state employees. This includes educators who work in our two-year colleges, state correctional facilities and residential schools, along with other frontline workers like nurses, epidemiologists and law enforcement officers. The contracts were passed in the House.

For most of the 2019-21 contracts, pay raises were 2.25 percent in the first year and 2.5 percent in the second. The contracts were negotiated last year within the budget appropriations made in 2019, and therefore are paid for.

“Educators and people who care about Minnesota’s students should let their senators know we expect better when the Legislature meets again,” said Education Minnesota President Denise Specht.

The Legislature is expected to go in to special session in mid-June, when the governor’s peacetime emergency expires. An extension would trigger a special session.

An education policy bill is expected to pass when the legislature meets in special session, and some proposed provisions include:

  • Adding a requirement for renewal of Tier 1 and Tier 2 teacher licenses that these teachers be trained in mental illness, which is currently required of Tier 3 and 4 teachers.
  • Requiring vaping prevention instruction for public school students in grades 6 to 8; encourages vaping prevention instruction for high school students; and requires MDE to include tobacco use and vaping questions in the Minnesota student survey.

Bill helps teachers renewing their licenses

Teachers who needed to complete licensure exams or renew their license by July 1 have six more months to do so.

HF4415 gives those teachers until Jan. 1 to complete the requirements. Only about half of the 17,000 teachers who had to renew their licenses this year were ready to do so before the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

The bill also allows the state education commissioner to waive certain testing and graduation requirements for the 2019-20 school year. School boards are also given the ability to transfer money between community education and general funds through next year to help fee-based programs in our schools. 

The bill also reduces the number of service days required for probationary teachers by the number of instructional days canceled due to COVID-19.