Education Policy Bills Pass First Deadline. Both the House and Senate Education omnibus policy bills–HF 1269 and SF 1311–cleared their respective committees last week and were referred to the Education Finance Committees in both instances. It remains to be seen whether these bills will be folded into the omnibus education funding bills to have a single bill addressing almost all of education funding and policy this session or if the education policy bills will be passed separately and have their own conference committee. It is extremely rare that the education policy provisions passed by each body aren’t folded into the single bill alongside the funding provisions, but there is precedence for separate policy and funding bills and the Senate Finance Committee Chair Senator John Marty (not to be confused with the Education Finance Committee Senator Mary Kunesh) has indicated an openness (perhaps preference) for handing funding bills and policy bills separately.
The only real difference in the minority caucuses’ approach to the bill hearing was the Senate minority members offered a set of individual amendments while the House offered a single delete-everything amendment that substituted their priorities for the majority’s.
Both the Senate and House bills are in excess of 100 pages and there are some items contained in both bills that elicited considerable and energetic discussion. The item that was most hotly-debated is the provision that prohibits post-secondary institution from requiring a faith statement from a prospective PSEO student during the application process or barring admission decision on a student’s race, creed, ethnicity, disability, gender or sexual orientation, or religious beliefs. Currently, there is at least one post-secondary institution that is requiring a faith statement and they believe it is important that they maintain the right to accept or not accept students–even if the state is providing the money for the student through PSEO–based upon the religious beliefs of the institution. That argument has not held up and I doubt that it will throughout the process (although with the majority only holding a one-vote margin in the Senate things could at least change in that body). If the policy is adopted, I fully expect the issue to come before the courts at some juncture. We have seen a number of issues pertaining to the relationship between religion and the public schools find their way into the court system in the past decade and it would not be a surprise if that were the case here.
Another issue that produced substantial debate was the proposed establishment of an ethnics studies curriculum that would serve as a framework for school districts across the state. As is the case with issues surrounding religion that I referenced in the previous paragraph, discussion of race and ethnicity and how these realities should be taught to students has become extremely controversial in the minds of some. Opponents of the provisions in the bill related to the proposed ethnic studies standards say that it closely resembles critical race theory, which has become a third-rail in the discussion of education policy nationally.
Lastly, the issue of non-exclusionary discipline–which has been discussed at length over the last three biennia–has found its way into both bills. When there was split control of the Legislature, the issue was addressed but proponents of reducing suspensions and addressing the disparity in suspension rates for students of color and students with disabilities believed even with the changes made, state policy had to go further. With full control of the Legislature falling to the DFL, the interests promoting a stronger commitment to change in discipline policies have a stronger hand to play and the prospects are in their favor.
There are variety of other provisions–many of them of importance–that are in these bills and here is the language of both bills (prior to technical amendments that were added) along with the bill summaries for your perusal.
All eyes now turn to the Education Finance Committees in the House and Senate. Most of the big timber has been heard in those committees, but there are a lot of grant proposals and funding bills that will be heard. The Senate has scheduled a hearing on the equalization bills for Tuesday morning and those bills will likely be moved over to the Tax Committee’s realm for consideration. So while a lot of air has gone out of the balloon with the completion of the Education Policy Committees’ work, there’s still a lot going on and the elbows get sharper when people start talking about money.
Bill Introductions (The Paper–or at least the Virtual Paper–Just Keeps on Coming).
I have to apologize because with the long hours related to the first committee deadline, I was unable to keep up with a lot of the bill introductions. Some of the late introductions will be dead-on-arrival if they relate to policy items (although they may emerge as an amendment later in the proceedings), but bills calling for an appropriation may well be heard prior to the appropriations bill deadline and may well be included in an omnibus bill.
House (Monday, March 6)
Senate (Monday, March 6)
Senate (Tuesday, March 7)
House (Wednesday, March 8)
Senate (March 8)
House (March 9)
Senate (March 9)