Governor signs education bill, says teacher licensing worth more negotiations

Gov. Mark Dayton signed into law an education funding bill and used his line-item veto to pressure the Legislature to renegotiate parts of a teacher licensure overhaul that would significantly lower standards. 
“Gov. Mark Dayton knows what bargaining in bad faith looks like and today he called the legislative negotiators on it,” said Denise Specht, president of Education Minnesota. “We agree with the governor that the people of Minnesota deserve better than sneak attacks, last-minute tricks and poison pills. Any teacher would grade their work ‘unsatisfactory.’” 
The Minnesota Legislature wrapped up its special session May 26, passing an education bill with barely-inflationary funding increases and harmful changes to teacher licensing and layoff regulations. The bill is also void of necessary fixes to the teacher pension fund. 
The education bill passed the House by a 76-54 vote and the Senate 34-28. This bill devalues the profession, allows people with little to no training to teach our children and makes it harder to recruit and retain quality educators. The bill includes:  

  • $467.8 million in new spending for preschools through high school—about $167 million more than a bill vetoed by Gov. Mark Dayton earlier in the month. About three-quarters of the new funding—$367 million—will go toward a 2 percent annual increase over the biennium on the per-pupil formula. An additional $50 million is earmarked for school readiness dollars that could be used for public preschool and another $20 million for preschool vouchers. 
  • Teacher licensing standard changes that give school districts too much authority to hire people with much less teacher training. People can receive an unlimited teaching license without any teacher preparation training—essentially allowing someone to teach for their entire career without any training on how to teach. 
  • No changes to the Teachers Retirement Association to improve the long-term stability of the pension. TRA’s board offered a balanced solution that would maintain a reliable, sustainable pension for current and future generations of teachers. 
  • The removal of baseline language for unrequested leaves of absence for teachers during times of budget trouble. When union and district negotiators can’t agree on a local system for layoffs, state law says the default is based on seniority and licensure area. This default was created because it protected teachers from arbitrary or vindictive dismissals. Layoff language is now up for negotiation, without the familiar safety net.  

Even though he still had concerns, Dayton said he signed all the state budget bills into law to avoid a state government shutdown. But he line-item vetoed funding for the House and Senate hoping Republican legislative leaders would come back to the negotiating table on taxes, drivers licenses for undocumented immigrants and changes to the new teacher licensing system. 
The 2017 session saw unprecedented levels of educator activism, which forced Republican leaders to up their initial education spending and abandon their proposal to offer back-door vouchers for private schools. 
Educators have the power to affect change when they raise their collective voice, but real progress can only come after election victories. 
Elections matter. Minnesota needs pro-education majorities in the House and Senate to make meaningful improvements to schools and the profession.