Capitol Comments: House Democrats’ education bill: Mountains of mandates

Published 8:45 pm Friday, April 29, 2022

Capitol Comments by Peggy Bennett

Last session, the Minnesota Legislature passed a two-year education budget bill that increased spending for Minnesota schools by over a half billion dollars. This session, in a non-budget year, the House Democrats have proposed a supplemental budget bill that would provide an additional $1.3 billion in education funding.

Peggy Bennett

As a former elementary school teacher of 33 years, children and education are near and dear to my heart. I support smart funding and smart policy for education. This bill contains neither.

It is my job as our state legislator to analyze an entire bill. I don’t just look at how much funding is in a bill. I also examine the policy in a bill, and I look at how that funding and policy will affect both our area and the entire state. 

Let’s look at the funding in this bill.

This $1.3 billion DFL proposal is not a Minnesota school funding bill — it’s a Minneapolis school funding bill. The statewide funding average in this bill is $829 per student. Minneapolis schools will receive $1,547 per student. As a matter of fact, Minneapolis schools are set to receive $80 million in this legislation. That’s almost double the state average.

I read in a Minneapolis Star Tribune article that the recent teacher strike in Minneapolis will result in an additional $80 million in spending for the Minneapolis schools over the next two years. I find it interesting that this is the exact amount that the Minneapolis schools would receive in this bill. Coincidence? You decide.

The funding in this legislation is not fair to Minnesota schools and is hugely biased toward Minneapolis and St. Paul.

Now let’s look at policy.

This bill contains a mountain of new mandates that push parents and locally elected school boards aside and puts state bureaucrats in charge of important decisions in our children’s education. Some of these mandates will not only affect our public schools, but will also create new requirements for private and home schools.  

Among the many mandates that remove local autonomy are new course requirements that would result in the loss of local control for schools and parents. One of these new course mandates would require a half-semester “ethnic studies” in order for students to graduate and also require embedding those same ethnic studies in all K-12 curriculum.

I think we all agree that studying and learning about the differences, similarities, histories and perspectives of other cultures — including  serious discussions about the evils or racism — is important. This is already required instruction in our current Minnesota social studies standards.

However, this bill now gives ethnic studies a definition: “Ethnic studies means the critical and interdisciplinary study of race, ethnicity and indigeneity with a focus on the experiences and perspectives of people of color within and beyond the United States. Ethnic studies analyzes the ways in which race and racism have been and continue to be powerful social, cultural and political forces, and the connections of race to the stratification of other groups, including stratification based on gender, class, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability and legal status.”

Forcing politically charged ideology like this onto Minnesota schools is very concerning. It will pit parents against teachers and school boards. Parents, teachers and school boards don’t want or need this added tension.

Good teachers don’t want to be political activists at school; they simply want to teach their students. We need to stop pitting teachers against parents. 

Another mandate in this bill would tie the hands of teachers and administrators in their ability to remove a child from the classroom or suspend a child from school. Teachers and administrators need practices in place that ensure a safe, positive learning environment for all students. This policy would weaken that goal and put every student and teacher in a precarious position for both safety and academic instruction.   

What about the students who want to learn but are unable to do so because of another student’s bad behavior? Schools need choices and options to best meet the needs of all students. One-size-fits-all rarely works. 

This mandate would also take away the opportunity for schools to provide consequences for bad behavior when those consequences are appropriate. More and more, I am seeing a push by my DFL colleagues to remove consequences for children in school and coddle bad behavior. If children do not learn to obey rules in school, how will they learn how to obey rules in society?  

The mountain of mandates in this bill are mixed with a lot of funding — unbalanced and unfair as it is. This bill seems to me more like a financial bribe to get schools to swallow a huge number of mandates that will tie their hands, add tons of extra work, and leave parents, teachers and locally elected school boards out of the decision-making process. 

This legislation is not in the best interest of Minnesota families and schools.

Peggy Bennett, R-Albert Lea, is the District 27A representative.