House, Senate education leaders share several priorities / Joe Nathan’s Column

Joe Nathan

Here’s some good news, looking ahead to the 2015 Minnesota Legislature’s discussions about improving public schools. Two leading Minnesota Senate Democrats described several of their priorities as similar to those described last week by leading House Republicans. While this doesn’t ensure agreement, it’s encouraging that these leaders share some similar priorities. They include a review of testing and funding formulas, along with efforts to strengthen the teaching profession.

Interviewed via email, Minnesota Sen. Chuck Wiger, DFL-Maplewood, told me his priorities include: “Funding formula—fair and adequate; teacher prep, evaluation and compensation—review, including revisions on Q-comp; early (pre-k) education-greater coordination, closing/eliminating achievement gap; reading and math proficiency—best practices; school facilities—recommendations from MDE task force; increasing postsecondary opportunities for students and streamlining testing.”

Sen. Chuck Wiger, DFL-Maplewood. (File photo)

Wiger’s priorities are important. He has served as chair of the Senate Finance Committee’s subdivision that deals with E-12 finance (“E” standing for “early childhood”). While committee chairs have not yet been named for 2015, it’s likely that Wiger will continue to be a leader in education.

Sen. Patricia Torres Ray, DFL-Minneapolis, probably also will continue to be a leader in this field. She chaired the Senate Education Committee. She told me when we met after the election that her first priority is to answer the question, “What can we do to create a more meaningful system of teacher preparation, mentoring and support?” She wants to start with teachers in kindergarten through third grade, as she sees these educators as “crucial to student success.” This is the time when students should learn to read and form, hopefully, positive attitudes about school and learning.

Sen. Patricia Torres Ray, DFL-Minneapolis. (File photo)

Torres Ray acknowledges that there will be discussions, as suggested by leading House Republicans, about removing ineffective teachers. She agrees, “We need to encourage more talented people to enter the profession. Eliminating bad apples has to be part of this.” But she does not want “all the attention focused on this, which can be a toxic topic.”

Torres Ray is hopeful. In 2015, “We can get so much done.” She hopes “we don’t get stuck as they are in Washington, D.C.”

There will be disagreements, some of them potentially deep disagreements. As mentioned in last week’s column, leading Republicans such as Reps. Pat Garofalo and Sondra Erickson want to examine teacher tenure rules. They may well disagree with some Democrats about considering changes in tenure and “last in-first out layoff provisions.”

But there also is agreement between leading Senate Democrats and House Republicans on the need to, as Wiger explained, “streamline testing” and improve school funding. The debate and discussion in these shared areas can focus on what should be done.

It’s encouraging to see that there is an agreement on several priorities for public schools. Readers who have suggestions for revisions in these areas might want to share them in the next month. It’s far easier to reach legislators now, before the legislative session begins early in January.


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