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Governor’s education policy bill sees some pushback during first House hearing

(House Photography file photo)
(House Photography file photo)

Gov. Tim Walz and his administration are seeking a wide variety of changes to the state’s educational standards. And not everyone is happy about them.

Sponsored by Rep. Laurie Pryor (DFL-Minnetonka) and clocking in at over 100 pages, HF1269 was laid over Tuesday for future consideration by the House Education Policy Committee.

Representatives from the Department of Education provided an overview of the bill’s main components, some of which match proposals that have already been winding their way through the education committees.

The governor and House DFLers are aligned on the following:

  • elimination of suspensions for students in grades K-3;
  • affirmation of the right for Indigenous students to sport tribal regalia at graduation;
  • prohibition on schools from using Indian symbols or names as mascots; and
  • establishment of a goal to increase teacher diversity by at least 2% each year.

Newly introduced during the hearing and proving uncontroversial were the following:

  • adding arts to the list of state standards and allowing media arts as an arts credit option;
  • repealing and replacing the Online Learning Act with the Online Instruction Act to better define requirements and expectations for digital learning; and
  • requiring the implementation of Indigenous Education for All into the state’s academic standards and graduation requirements.

However, several key provisions in the bill generated impassioned opposition testimony.

Minnesota operates a tiered licensing system for its K-12 teachers and sets in place stringent prerequisites for advancing up the ladder. One way a Tier 2 teacher can qualify for a Tier 3 license is through the “experience pathway.” The department considers this a shortcut for advancement and wants to shut it down.

“This pathway isn’t a loophole, it’s a promise. And this proposal breaks that promise to Minnesota educators … that if they met the statutory qualifications for a Tier 2 license and taught effectively for three years they would earn their Tier 3 license,” said Matt Shaver, policy director of EdAllies. He argued closing this pathway would be counterproductive in addressing both workforce shortages and lack of diversity in the profession.

Gov. Walz's education policy bill gets first hearing in House committee 2/7/23

A proposal to alter high school graduation requirements for science elicited criticism as well.

“It is long past time earth science is recognized and elevated to the importance that the other sciences are afforded,” said Dana Smith, a Bemidji science teacher. She believes the bill’s language will continue to relegate this important field of study to second-class status in the state’s science curricula.

But the fiercest opposition to the bill came from the parents of homeschooled students in response to two specific departmental prerogatives: embedding ethnic studies into the state’s academic standards and a new mandate for homeschool parents to submit standardized test scores to the local school district, while also providing proof that they are following required protocols set by the superintendent.

The submission of testing scores proved especially contentious and motivated homeschool parents to protest the proposed mandate in force. They submitted dozens of pages of written testimony, spoke before the committee, and filled the hearing room to near capacity.

“It is my belief that we all want our children … to be seen as an individual and not a test score,” said Heather Douglas, a homeschool parent.

Karin Miller, an English teacher and homeschool parent, argued homeschooled students excel, citing statistics of them outperforming public school students on standardized exams.

“Therefore, there is no justification [for homeschool parents] to submit their students’ annual test scores to the superintendent.”

She also expressed privacy concerns around what school districts would do with these test scores, fearing “further restriction or discrimination against homeschoolers.”

Homeschool parents found an ally in Rep. Ben Bakeberg (R-Jordan), who expressed strong objections to the bill.

“This bill is heavy on mandates and leaves little room for innovation and local control,” he said. “We are farthest from the classroom. We should be empowering our local school districts, our locally elected school boards, and most importantly our educators and parents, to make the decisions that are best for their children.”

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