When school districts break an important state law

The following column originally appeared in a number of APG of East Central Minnesota newspapers during April and May, 2023

When school districts break an important state law

Recognizing that college costs are an important issue for many Minnesota families, a new report asks and answers a vital question: What should happen when Minnesota public schools continue to break the law in ways that have a significant negative impact on students and families throughout the state? If students continued to break a law, there would be consequences.

Some school districts are withholding information that could save students and families tens of thousands of dollars in college costs. Previous research by a Minnesota Senate staff member showed that Postsecondary Enrollment Options saves Minnesota families almost $60 million a year and taxpayers about $15 million a year. The law allows students in 10th to 12 grade to take free courses on college campuses or online.

In 2014, Minnesota’s PSEO law was amended to require up-to-date information be given to students and families by a certain date and posted on district websites.

New research by People for PSEO, written by former PSEO participants Katyanna Taylor and Zeke Jackson, shows that 63% of districts and 30% of charters are not providing all the information required by state law, which is explained by the Minnesota Department of Education. For example, less than half of the websites tell students they can take PSEO courses online using their school’s computers.

Katyanna Taylor and Zeke Jackson

Their 2023 report of 390 websites shows that the number of school websites fully complying with state law increased from 153 (39%) to 162 (42%) since 2022. However, the report also found the number of websites with no or inaccurate information about PSEO increased as well. Their “Information Gap” report is available.

The report describes each website. The 228 districts and charters listed as missing required information on their website include: Braham Area Schools, Brooklyn Center Community Schools, Delano Public Schools, Eden Prairie Schools, Lakes International Language Academy (charter), Orono Independent School District 278, Princeton Public Schools ISD 477, Rosemount Apple Valley Eagan ISD 196, Royalton Public Schools, Rush City Public Schools, South Washington County Schools, St. Louis Park Public Schools, Spring Lake Park Schools, Staples-Motley Schools, Wayzata Public Schools, and Westonka Public Schools.

It must be noted, this is not a comprehensive list of violators.

Minnesota Department of Education’s response to continued law breaking has been, in part, to remind school districts and charters that they should follow the law. MDE Chief of Staff Laurie Graff told me that after she and other MDE officials read the 2022 report, “We’ve increased efforts to encourage educators to understand and follow the law.” Recently MDE reminded educators via newsletter and held online training for counselors.

The Minnesota governor’s office did one other thing. Acting on a recommendation from a report commissioned by the ECMC Foundation and Minnesota’s P-20 Council, it suggested to legislators that a $50 million “pilot project” be created to fully fund some districts and charters whose students participate in PSEO. Currently dollars follow students, paying all tuition, book, and lab fees. Graff says that the administration wants to “incentivize” educators to follow the law.

What about districts and charters that continue to break it? Graff reiterated: “We want to incentivize them.” I asked Alex Perry of consulting group FLP Advisors, who wrote the report, “What should happen to districts and charters that disobey the law?” He responded, “I don’t have an opinion on that.” ECMC Foundation staff declined an interview request to discuss this.

Perry’s research included talking with PSEO students and families. His report didn’t include a word about districts and charters breaking the law. The report acknowledged that many parents and students have trouble obtaining accurate information.

People for PSEO’s report urges consequences when state law is repeatedly broken. MDE has the power to withhold funds from districts and charters that break the law.

Former MDE Commissioner Bob Wedl (who served before the PSEO law required up-to-date information on district websites), told me: “The Legislature passed laws regarding what must be on websites, but most districts and some charters ignore this. What happens to students who ignore school board ‘laws?’ Answer: Suspension or expulsion.”

While incentives could be tried, PSEO students are right. After eight years of law-breaking, would educators continue just asking students to follow laws? Of course not.

Ignoring the PSEO law is terrible modeling for students. It’s time to withhold funds from districts and charters that continue breaking the law.

The version of this column that appeared in the County News Review included this:

EDITOR’S NOTE: Since this column was written, the Braham Area Schools system has contacted Nathan and has taken positive steps towards compliance.

Joe Nathan, Ph.D., formerly a Minnesota public school teacher, administrator and PTA president, directs the Center for School Change. Reactions welcome: joe@centerforschoolchange.org