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Important policy provisions impacting educators, unions

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Being a funding year, the main focus of legislation was on the budget, but there were also significant policy provisions that were passed impacting our unions, schools, educators and students. Below is a breakdown of some of the biggest ones.

Union freedoms

This year, the Legislature made a number of changes to PELRA that will, ideally, modernize a statute that has not seen a great deal of changes since it was adopted in 1971. These changes include:

Subjects of bargaining
Terms and conditions of employment now specifically includes “adult-to-student ratios in classrooms, student testing, and student-to-personnel ratios.” The language enables the parties to bargain about staffing levels in classrooms, buildings and the district as a whole. While this provision alone will not reduce the existing educator shortage, it will permit unions to negotiate with districts about staffing solutions that can aid students and help to retain staff. The language also specifically requires districts to negotiate with their bargaining units regarding the implementation of e-learning days.

Bargaining unit changes/pre-K licensure
Tier 1 teachers are now eligible to be in their district’s bargaining unit. Pre-kindergarten teachers are also now eligible to be in their bargaining unit. In addition, all early learning school-based programs will require licensure by 2028, however anyone who has been teaching in a program for five or more years is exempted from this requirement.

Access to employees
Employers must provide information about new hires to exclusive representatives within 20 days of their hire or exit from the bargaining unit. Also, employers must, every 120 days, provide information about bargaining unit members to an exclusive representative.  Perhaps most importantly, exclusive representatives must be given an opportunity to meet with new employees for at least 30 minutes upon their hire.

Access to data
Employers are now obligated to provide unions with information about new employees as well as issues relating to the enforcement of a collective bargaining agreement. Employers are no longer permitted to withhold information about grievances and investigations.

Unions are permitted to have payroll deduction as a method of collecting dues, and employers may not unilaterally stop dues collection unless they are authorized to do so by an exclusive representative.

Card check
Unions may use card check verification, administered by the Bureau of Mediation Services, as a method of ensuring majority support for a bargaining representative.

ECFE/ABE rights
Early Childhood Family Education and Adult Basic Education teachers now have the same due process protections and teacher tenure protections as other licensed teachers.

Probationary periods
The probationary period for all teachers has been lowered from 120 days a year to 90 days a year. Probationary periods have been aligned across all districts and charter schools, meaning that, once a teacher has completed their probation, they will only have a one-year probation if/when they move to another district. 

Captive audience meeting
This language prevents employers from retaliating against an employee who chooses not to attend an employer’s mandatory meetings about religious or political matters. This would limit the ability of employers to require employees to listen to electioneering or lobbying pitches, as well as anti-union content.

PERB funding
The Legislature created the Public Employment Relations Board in 2014 so that parties could file unfair labor practice (ULP) charges with an administrative body instead of in court. It previously only received a small sum of money to start its operations. The PERB is finally funded at $750,000 annually and will now be able to hire full-time staff.

Student discipline

K-3 Suspensions
Districts may not suspend or dismiss a student in grades pre-K through 3, but this does not prevent districts or administrators from sending students home for less than a day if the need arises. As is the case with many provisions relating to discipline, districts must review IDEA and relevant state law when determining whether to send students receiving special education services even for a partial day.

Non-exclusionary Policies and Practices
Starting this fall, schools must use non-exclusionary discipline practices before suspending a student or encouraging them to withdraw. This provision received a significant amount of attention during the legislative session, and the language that the Legislature adopted was at least partly as a result of engagement by teachers, administrators, community organizations and the Department of Education. This language did not affect the ability of administrators to remove students immediately if “it appears that the pupil will create an immediate and substantial danger to self or to surrounding persons or property.” It also reflects current best practices for classroom educators who routinely redirect and intervene when students are off-task prior to even considering whether to remove a student from the classroom.

Tiered licensure changes

Basic skills test requirement removed
The basic skills tests have been proven to be full of racial bias and has not correlated to teacher effectiveness. Removing this unnecessary barrier to licensure now means that in order to move from a Tier 3 to a Tier 4 license, teachers will have to have three years teaching experience. For most, the three years will coincide with a probationary period and the move to continuing contract will happen at the same time members become eligible for their initial T4 license.  

Teachers from other states
The requirement for teachers coming to Minnesota from other states to stay at Tier 3 until they have accumulated three years of teaching in MN has been removed. Now, when teachers come from other states, they can go right to Tier 4 IF they have three years of experience as the teacher of record in the same licensure field. Those years don’t need to have been in Minnesota.

Tier 2 license holders
Tier 2 is now limited to people who have 1) completed teacher prep but not yet passed tests, 2) people enrolled in preparation; and 3) people who hold an M.A. degree in the licensure field. PELSB will work on adopting rules that require enrolled candidates to show that they are making reasonable progress at the moment of renewal.

Because no changes were made to the eligibility requirements for a Tier 3 license, Tier 2 license holders can continue to move to a Tier 3 without completing teacher preparation or submitting a portfolio. We hope that PELSB will adopt rules requiring Tier 2 license holders to show that they are making reasonable progress toward completion of programs at the moment of Tier 2 license renewal. 

American Indian history relicensure requirement
The new requirement, on American Indian history, has yet to be defined in PELSB rule. This law goes into effect Aug. 1, which means the state will need to build a course immediately for people renewing in 2024, and then be set to revise it whenever PELSB completes rulemaking and defines the requirement.

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