Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Testy Tuesday.  Well, it wasn't actually testy, but things got a little fired up in both of the House education-related hearings today.  HF 2--Representative Loon's comprehensive teacher licensure reform bill--was the sole bill on the House Education Innovation Policy Committee agenda and it elicited a lot of discussion.  The bill provides for a number of teacher reforms, most notably the streamlining of requirements of teachers licensed in other states to teach in Minnesota. the allowance for community experts greater freedom to teach, and changes in the methods used to determine the unrequested leave-of-absence process in school districts.  Most of the testimony came from those concerned with proposed changes with the strongest statements coming from the Minnesota Board of Teaching and Education Minnesota.  I thought that the greatest concern would be in the proposed elimination of "last in/first out" process to determine layoffs, but the most salient concern seemed to be focused on the community expert provision, which both the Board of Teaching and  Education Minnesota contend cheapens the teaching profession and would put unqualified individuals in front of classrooms.  The Board of Teaching also expressed deep concerns over the bill's intent to make it easier for teachers licensed in other states to teach in Minnesota.  The Minnesota Association of Colleges of Teacher Education joined with the the Board of Teaching in contending that Minnesota's standards for teachers are higher than they are in other states and intentionally so.  Moving away from these high standards by allowing out-of-state teachers a streamlined path to gain a Minnesota license would be a mistake in the eyes of these groups.  The testimony coming from individual teachers who believe they would be adversely affected by the proposed changes was quite powerful and it will be interesting to see if the bill will be amended at some juncture to accommodate their concerns.  There was also powerful testimony supporting the bill, especially coming from charter schools.  Time expired before amendments could be offered and the Committee will take up this bill again at a hearing on Thursday night, beginning at 6 PM.

The House Education Finance Committee delved into the implementation of the Health Insurance Transparency Act (HITA) that was passed last session and directed bidding for employees health insurance beginning with this bargaining cycle.  Part of that law required all school districts to request a bid from the Public Employees Insurance Plan (PEIP).  There is some question as to whether or not this was accomplished and, if it wasn't, why not.  Education Minnesota has long sought a more comprehensive teacher health insurance plan for teachers throughout the state, but abandoned efforts to establish a single statewide plan and opted for the procedural changes in HITA instead.  There is some question as to what, if any, benefit other than requiring districts to seek additional bids for health insurance (if that can indeed be classified as a benefit).  Needless to say, the jury is still out on the changes brought about by HITA, but there was ample skepticism expressed today about the wisdom of those changes.

To me, the common theme in both these hearings is whether or not the state trusts school districts to make the right decisions, both in terms of hiring qualified teachers and purchasing health insurance.  I get that it's not always going to be sweetness and light between school districts and school district employees, but that's because one side is labor and the other side is management.  Disagreement on some matters is part of the territory.  The question is how much, if any, should the state interfere in the processes discussed today.

Things were more sedate in the Senate, where the expanded provision of school breakfast was the main item on the agenda.  The committee also discussed a grant for the Headwaters science center and the Northwestern online college in the high school program.

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