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At Issue: Trying to earn a passing grade

Published (5/2/2008)
By Thomas Hammell
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Much like many students in a classroom, legislators are hurrying to get their work done before the term expires.

The E-12 Education Conference Committee began its work April 30, with a goal of finishing by May 5.

“We have 126 hours and 10 minutes to reach an agreement, and we will,” said Sen. Chuck Wiger (DFL-Maplewood), who sponsors HF3316/SF3001* with Rep. Carlos Mariani (DFL-St. Paul). “It’s my intent that we try to reach an agreement that does become law.”

Conferees spent most of the first meeting approving 29 common provisions, and trying to obtain a better understanding why the other side has certain provisions in their bill. Members were likely to reconvene May 1.

The group approved House language expanding the role of the P-16 partnership, which has the role of providing a seamless transition between grades from preschool to college. The partnership would be renamed P-20 and would include graduate school.

Among the issues agreed upon were statewide academic standards, rules for the Minnesota Board of Teaching, the establishment of a Charter School Advisory Council, a provision allowing teachers to request a leave of absence to teach in a charter school and the formation of a committee to establish American Indian education programs for Minnesota schools.

Both chairs said after the meeting that they were pleased the P-20 and other legislation was agreed upon, but both agreed that not everything the committee will be negotiating will go so smoothly.

“We want to have a discussion about those dissimilars, and hopefully we’ll have the ability to put offers on the table,” Mariani said.

House provisions

After three-dozen amendments, and more than six hours of debate, the House approved the bill 85-45 April 28. The Senate passed its version 47-17 April 17.

Many of the more controversial issues included in the final version were introduced as amendments, among them a plan to get out of the federal No Child Left Behind. The Senate has no such provision.

The House language would revoke the plan Minnesota submitted to the federal government, but only if the state realized a net financial benefit. The bill would also require the education and finance commissioners to jointly petition the federal Department of Education to allow Minnesota to receive funds.

Rep. Bud Heidgerken (R-Freeport) said the amendment does not go far enough, because the financial benefit language essentially forces the state to remain involved.

Rep. Neva Walker (DFL-Mpls) successfully amended the bill to establish curricula for “Responsible Family Life and Sexuality Education Programs.” It is not in the Senate bill. “I want to give parental options and make sure all of our kids have a chance to get out of high school,” Walker said

The amendment passed, 79-53 but not before drawing the ire of many Republican members.

Rep. Sondra Erickson (R-Princeton) successfully attached an amendment to add language about respecting marriage.

An amendment successfully offered by Rep. Laura Brod (R-New Prague) would allow charter school students to participate in public school sports teams in the district they live in at no extra cost. “What we’re trying to do is just give them access to playing sports with friends.”

Rep. Kim Norton (DFL-Rochester), a former school board chair, said it’s not fair for an enrolled student to have to give up a roster spot for a student who is not part of the district.

The Senate version also includes a number of provisions that the House version does not, including language dealing with a reading instruction assessment to measure the knowledge and skill of prekindergarten and elementary reading teachers.

The Senate version includes language dealing with habitual truancy, teacher and support personnel qualifications and a reading instruction assessment to measure the knowledge and skill of pre-kindergarten and elementary reading teachers.

Several portions of the House bill removed on the floor could come back during the conference committee process, including:

• a bill sponsored by Rep. Frank Moe (DFL-Bemidji) that would allow schools to appeal rulings on adequate yearly progress required under the No Child Left Behind Act;

• a bill sponsored by Rep. Linda Slocum (DFL-Richfield) that would allow students a transitional three-year period in which high school seniors who failed the Graduation-Required Assessments for Diploma would be able to appeal and possibly still graduate; and

• a bill sponsored by Rep. John Benson (DFL-Minnetonka) that would require the Department of Education to submit a report to the Legislature that points out duplicative reporting requirements within the department and recommendations for removing them.

These bills are going through the committee process in HF4018, a technical bill dealing with financial reporting for school districts, sponsored by Rep. Mindy Greiling (DFL-Roseville).

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