Funding, testing and tenure are 2015 House Republican education priorities / Joe Nathan’s Column

Joe Nathan

Contacted on Election Day, two key Minnesota House Republicans offered several priorities in education. Democrats are still the majority in the Minnesota Senate, and DFL Gov. Mark Dayton was re-elected, but Republicans replaced DFLers as the majority in the Minnesota House.

The legislative process ultimately requires compromises between House, Senate and governor, so it’s likely that some Republican ideas will be adopted or adapted before the 2015 session ends.

Having observed and sometimes participated in the legislative process for more than 30 years, I’ve learned that when the majority changes in the Minnesota House or Senate, you can expect revisions in Minnesota’s education policies to be discussed, and possibly approved.

Writing via email, former K-12 Education Policy Committee Chair Rep. Sondra Erickson, R-Princeton, and former Education Finance Committee Chair Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, mentioned several priorities.

They both mentioned teacher tenure. Erickson also cited funding and testing. Both Erickson and Garofalo were re-elected Nov. 4, according to preliminary results from the Secretary of State’s office.

Rep. Sondra Erickson

First: funding. Erickson wrote via email, “Funding equity will … be on the table.” Regardless of party, when control changes, legislators often adjust the way Minnesota’s schools are funded. It will be interesting to see what changes Republicans propose.

A second issue is testing. Erickson wrote: “If the GOP gains the House, the education agenda will include repealing some of the testing mandates of 2013-14 as well as repealing mandates found on lists provided by school districts and education organizations. … If I am chair of ed policy, I will promote meaningful tests for our students and examine to what extent Minnesota can get from under the control of the federal government.”

The “testing mandates” that Erickson mentions includes requiring Minnesota public high school students to take both the ACT college entrance test and the Minnesota-developed Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments. High school students currently are required to take these tests but are not required to achieve a certain score on them. Legislators hoped that the ACT would substitute for the MCA, thus saving money and time.

However, federal requirements (and a waiver Minnesota received from the U.S. Department of Education) are challenges. Under federal law, Minnesota must use a test that was tied to statewide standards. The ACT apparently was not sufficiently related to Minnesota state standards, so students also must take the MCA. The state has contracts for several years with the ACT and MCA publishers.

Some testing is valuable. But if a way can be found to reduce the amount spent on and the time devoted to testing, that could be a good thing.

House Education Finance Committee Chairman Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington. (Photo by T.W. Budig)

Erickson and Garofalo also mentioned teacher tenure. Erickson wrote, “ I am also interested in how teacher tenure could be reformed to ensure that students receive the most effective teachers and that schools are led by the most effective principals as well.”

Garofalo wrote: “The return of a Republican majority means that education reform is once again going to be an important item in the 2015 legislative session. The modernization of outdated and obsolete tenure laws will be a crucial item for the new bipartisan legislative chambers.”

This is likely to be an intense discussion. Tenure gives teachers who have been evaluated and retained for several years the right to go through a process of review before being terminated. It’s controversial and something that can’t be fairly examined in a paragraph or two. But it will be discussed in the 2015 Legislature.

Current House Education Policy Chair Rep. Carlos Mariani, DFL-St. Paul, wrote via email on Election Day that “negotiating with a DFL Senate provides the GOP with an opportunity to be less ideologically driven and more pragmatically focused on things like better funding schools, stronger support for charters, better alignment between secondary and postsecondary, testing reform, expansion of school mental health and wrap-around services.” He anticipated that Republicans would want to “attack teacher tenure.”

The K-12 (or sometimes pre-K-12) education law that emerges often is more than 100 pages long, with many details. But clearly funding, testing and tenure will among the top issues for 2015.


Joe Nathan, formerly a Minnesota public school teacher, administrator and PTA president, directs the Center for School Change. Reactions are welcome, please comment below.