Committee Summary: Senate Education Finance and Policy (Feb. 24)

By: McKenzie Kemper, Freelance Community Journalist-in-Training

On Wednesday, Feb. 24, the Senate Education Finance and Policy Committee gathered to discuss several proposed bills. It was a lively and intense conversation that will continue to help shape the priorities of the committee this session. 

The first bill discussed, Senate File 446, was brought by Sen. Jim Abeler (R-Anoka) to help increase the number of teachers of color and Indigenous teachers in the classroom, help with school enhancement grants, and fund Come Teach and Grow Your Own. Abeler had many testifiers in support of the bill, including Andy Morris, legislative liaison for the Council for Asian Pacific Minnesotans, and Yahanna Mackbee, a high school junior who has not encountered many teachers who look like her in the classroom. This bill creates a goal pathway to getting BIPOC teachers in the classroom but does not put a quota on achieving that goal. Paul Spies from the Coalition to Increase Teachers of Color and American Indian Teachers pointed out that this strategy is crucial to the success of the bill, because it creates spending based on what is successful. The bill was laid over for possible inclusion after committee members expressed bipartisan support.

The second bill, SF 781, proposes that Minnesota changes how it licenses, hires and dismisses teachers. This bill would allow districts to focus on teachers that best fit the needs of their schools versus following the “first in, first out” approach that has been utilized for many years when it comes to hiring and firing teachers. This bill was met with resistance as several people, including Kendra Caduff, president of Farmington Education Association, expressed concern that the bill’s language would  lower the teaching standards in our classrooms at a time when Minnesota is desperately working to close our worst-in-the-nation achievement gap. Caduff agreed that there needs to be diversity in our classrooms, but she and several other testifiers do not feel that this is the path to achieve that goal. After a lively discussion among the committee members in which Sen. Jason Isaacson (D-Shoreview) proposed that language regarding seniority be removed from the bill, and did not succeed in his proposal, Senate File 781 was laid over for possible inclusion. 

The remaining bills discussed (784, 819, and 526) covered changes in substitute teacher licensing to help with the shortage of substitute teachers in the state, mentorship programs for educators, and providing grant money to the organization Black Men Teach. All three bills brokered lively discussion about possible pathways to get a diversity of teachers in the classroom and all three were laid over for possible inclusion. The committee will meet next week to discuss more bills and continue shaping its goals for creating and supporting diversity in classrooms. 

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