MBP Letter: House File 630, PK-12 Education Finance bill

TO:  Members, Minnesota House of Representatives
FR:   Charlie Weaver
RE:   House File 630, PK-12 Education Finance bill

While we appreciate Representative Marquart’s commitment to ensuring Minnesota’s students are among the best prepared in the world, we’re writing to express our strong concerns with the current version of H.F. 630.  Our primary concerns with H.F. 630 are the:

  • Elimination of state expectations in reading, writing and math for students to earn a diploma; and
  • Lowering expectations for the performance of new teachers in reading, writing and math.

Basic expectations.  The most devastating shortcoming of H.F. 630 is the elimination of state expectations for student achievement on the state’s reading, writing and math standards to earn a high school diploma.  H.F. 630 repeals our current high school exams (e.g. GRAD), and lacks any basic state expectations in the future. 

With implementation of the GRAD exams, high school student achievement and graduation gaps are closing.  One reason for this improvement is the GRAD exams are based on Minnesota’s academic standards.  As a result, students, families and teachers have information on student progress throughout their K-12 experience and can modify instruction as needed to help them succeed.

We are one of 25 states, representing nearly 70% of all U.S. students, that requires students to show basic competency in core subjects through objective state exams.  These policies not only provide consistent expectations for student performance among diverse school districts, but also ensure the value of a diploma. 

We support legislation (H.F. 1506) similar to the proposed changes in high school exams contained in H.F. 630.  The key difference, however, is the establishment of state expectations for earning a diploma – set at a level where students wouldn’t need remedial courses to enter a post-secondary certificate program.

With H.F. 630, Minnesota is poised to return to the time when we had no common expectations for high school graduation and the public, employers and post-secondary institutions expressed dismay over graduates who couldn’t read or do basic math.

New teachers.  Just one year ago, the House voted 132 – 0, the Senate voted 60 – 1 and Governor Dayton signed into law the expectation that new teachers be able to pass state reading, writing and math exams before they entered a classroom.  H.F. 630 reverses this commonsense expectation.  To the degree accommodations are needed for language immersion teachers, or other extenuating circumstances, they should be made.  However, creating indefinite exemptions from this expectation is unwarranted.

We do want to recognize some of the positive aspects of H.F. 630.  These include the focus on early education, early literacy, the math corps and the continuing role of the Online and Digital Learning Advisory Council.

We’re also very supportive of the goals statement for achieving the world’s best workforce: closing the achievement gap; 100% literacy for third grade students; and 100% attainment of college and career readiness for high school graduates.  A suggested improvement for meeting these goals is building a stronger role for parents, beyond the oversight actions of the Department.

We look forward to continuing to work with you to ensure our students can compete globally, though a critical factor for accomplishing this goal is setting common state expectations for all students to earn a diploma.