Education Innovation Policy, the main committee I chair, was very busy this week. We heard nine bills that addressed issues facing parents, teachers and students. Except for one of these bills, I kept them in my committee for further consideration.
First, a bill that would allow schools to keep a supply of asthma inhalers was debated. This proposal would add an extra safeguard for students if they were to suffer an asthma attack and not have their own inhaler on-hand. The committee forwarded the bill to the Health and Human Services Policy Committee for their membership to debate.
Next was a measure that would help get students back on track if they are not reading at level by third grade. Although this bill focuses on interventions, it also makes clear that students not meeting high school standards can attend public school free of charge until the age of 21 to meet these requirements.
Still another proposal included a request to the Department of Education to issue an RFP to produce a cost-benefits analysis of special education programs to ensure that each dollar spent benefits our students but that districts have the flexibility to adjust their programs to meet their students’ needs. Unfortunately, the bill was misunderstood as a reduction of regulations for our special needs students and brought parents to the testifying table to oppose it.
In addition, a controversial proposal to remove “willful” from the Pupil Fair Dismissal section of law brought many, many testifyers both to support and to oppose this change. We heard from some very articulate lawyers, one of whom had presented the case to a high court in Minnesota, and from several students who were concerned that the repeal of this word would result in far more suspensions and expulsions than already occur in urban schools.
I moved to lay the bill over for more discussion and to await other proposals that will try to solve the over-use of suspensions in our urban schools. Discipline in our schools – student safety as well as teacher and staff safety - will be major policy discussion this year.
On the side of education public/private partnerships - community, the state and the private sector – the committee heard a proposal that paves the way for more educational partnerships becase they seem to help close the achievement gap. One of the partnerships is the Northside Achievement Zone in North Minneapolis which received millions early in the Obama administration, but now needs state support. This bill was referred to the Committee on Education Finance for further action.
Finally, the committee heard a policy change to school food contracts that would allow schools to extend their food service contracts to three years instead of two.
Overall, it was another great week in St. Paul with many visitors that included Mille Lacs County Administration Pat Oman and Mille Lacs County Engineer Bruce Cochran, as I continue to work on issues to help the county as well as the lake area.
A group of nurses from our area also stopped by, as did board members from electric coops (Barb Welty from Onamia representing Mille Lacs Electric) and from a local Farm Bureau.
I enjoyed meeting with all of them and look forward to meeting with more of you in the future.
Enjoy our spring-like weather and blessings for a great President’s Day holiday with family and friends.