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State senators debate best policies and curriculum for Minnesota schools

The Minnesota Senate debated an omnibus education policy bill that would add financial literacy and ethnic studies to curriculum among other changes.

ST PAUL, Minn. — In a Minnesota Senate debate that lasted for over five hours Monday, State Sen. Steve Cwodzinski (DFL - Eden Prairie) made his case for SF 1311, an omnibus education policy bill.

"For too many years now, we've been preoccupied with testing, testing, testing, and what about the academic needs, and the academic needs, and the academic needs of our children?" said Cwodzinski, who is the chief author of the bill. "And I think what we're going to start seeing is the social needs and the emotional needs, and the mental needs and the physical needs of our children will be equally important to the academic needs."

Democrats say the bill would "ensure every Minnesotan child receives a world-class education in a safe, welcoming environment, and ensure Minnesota remains a state that puts students first."

It includes measures like adding civics and personal finance courses to high school curriculums. The bill originally included a provision adjusting the Postsecondary Enrollment Options (PSEO) application process to prevent faith-based discrimination; Republicans later won adoption of an amendment that would allow Christian colleges to continue with PSEO if they're in compliance with the law and any judicial rulings.

Democrats say the bill would also integrate ethnic studies into academic standards "to provide culturally sustaining instruction to our increasingly diverse student body, while ensuring students receive an education that includes learning about a wider array of cultures and traditions." 

Republicans say this would take away focus from established core subjects.

"Instead of focusing on the math, reading and science improvements, they're going to have to be changing their curriculum to meet standards," said State Sen. Jason Rarick (R - Pine City). "Our mandates are focused around the literacy and saying you have to get our kids caught up and follow these paths to get caught up in your reading because everything else falls into place when you know how to read."

The omnibus policy bill also includes printing mental health and suicide prevention resource information on the back of student ID cards for grades 6-12. Additionally, the Tiered Teacher Licensure system would be revised "to ensure all educators are trained on essential subjects including the teacher code of ethics, mandated reporting, standards of effective practice, diversity and inclusion in the classroom, lesson planning and design, and the methods of teaching," according to Democrats.

They say non-exclusionary discipline policies would also be adjusted "to address the fact that a disproportionate number of students of color are suspended, expelled, or otherwise excluded from classroom instruction in Minnesota."

The Minnesota Senate was also set to discuss a school funding bill Monday that the House passed last week. It would increase basic state aid to school districts by more than $400 per student. 


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