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2008 Minnesota Session Education Wrap-Up

June 10, 2008  
The 2008 session will likely be remembered more for what the children, parents, and taxpayers of Minnesota were spared and for good provisions that were unfortunately dropped than for any great accomplishments in the legislative realm of education.  In an election year ploy, school districts received $51 per student in one-time money that won't solve long-term funding issues.  Here is a final status report on the education-related provisions that EdWatch was following this session.  Thank you for your support and involvement.

- Despite three amendments passing the House floor, including one unanimous vote, and a close vote in the Senate, language withdrawing Minnesota from the onerous and academically damaging requirements of NCLB were dropped as the education policy bill went to conference committee. This shows the hypocrisy of the Democrats who complain about NCLB, but have refused to push the issue now that they have control of the legislature. It also shows big government tendencies of Governor Pawlenty who threatened to veto the policy bill if it withdrew Minnesota from NCLB. Both the Democrats and the governor seem intent on keeping NCLB, despite the fact that the federal department of Education has issued new proposed regulations that increase its bureaucracy and. testing.  It will be very important to make this an election issue at both the state and federal levels during the 2008 campaign.  Withdrawal from NCLB is now part of the Minnesota state Republican Party platform. 

Thumbs upREPORT CARD LANGUAGE AND MORE STUDENT SURVEYS - The confusing and bureaucratic report card system that contained the invasive survey on student "engagement" and relationships with teachers passed the legislature, but died when the policy bill was vetoed.  For this the governor should be thanked.
 INCREASED FUNDING FOR EARLY CHILDHOOD SCREENING - Although this was in the education finance bill that was vetoed, all of the same provisions were reinserted into the "garbage" bill that was passed in the waning hours of the session. Increased early childhood funding was included. Although the administration opposed the increase, the governor could not line item veto it without vetoing the entire appropriation for screening, so the increase will stand. However, because the legislature did not deal with the deficit in a financially sound way, the deficit is likely to increase next year, and this kind of unnecessary funding will have to be addressed in the next budget session when competing against K-12 funding.  It is important to remember that parents may refuse this screening for their children, particularly the subjective and invasive socioemotional (mental) screening.
EARLY CHILDHOOD GOAL - "All Minnesota children will be school ready by 2020" was passed as a legislative "goal." As seen in similar "Goals 2000" federal language, this is nice-sounding goal is inserted into law to legitimize and authorize limitless government expansion and oversight into every area of local community and private family life.
CRADLE TO COLLEGE CONTROL - This P-20 partnership provision to establish government oversight of children from infancy through college passed the legislature, but died when the policy bill was vetoed.
(+/-) DATA SHARING - This provision to share data between the Department of Education and the state Office of Higher Education died in the education policy bill, but unfortunately survived in the data practices bill.  Thanks to your involvement the data is aggregate instead of individual.  
(+/-) OBESITY MONITORING - This provision to require overt nosy and subjective monitoring via body mass index did not survive any of the final health reform, health finance or education bills. However, health care policy expert Twila Brase states that, "While this bill does not include that language, health officials are not prohibited from collecting height and weight of children and giving them 'fat scores' through BMI measurements.
BEHAVIORAL AND ACEDEMIC SCREENING - The state Department of Education was true to its word and, in part because of your involvement, removed the provision to prevent special education referrals by subjective behavioral screening and intervention under unclear consent and record keeping procedures.  They admit, however, that it will be back next year and vigilance will be required.  
ALTERNATIVE ACHIEVEMENT STANDARDS - This provision would have greatly increased the incentive to label children with subjective learning or emotional disabilities in order for schools to more easily meet adequate yearly progress goals under NCLB. It passed the legislature, but died when the policy bill was vetoed.

EASIER LABELING OF CHILDREN WITH ADHD - This Senate provision also passed the legislature, but died when the policy bill was vetoed.
(+/-) REQUIRED FUNDING FOR SCHOOL PSYCHOLOGISTS AND SOCIAL WORKERS - This provision survived in the big budget-balancing bill.  While it might increase the amount of school based mental health interference in children's lives, it may also well have the beneficial effect of draining funding from ineffective suicide and mental screening programs like TeenScreen.

MANDATORY COMPREHENSIVE SEX EDUCATION - Despite numerous attempts by liberal DFL legislators to include some form of this in either the policy bill or as a separate bill, a threatened gubernatorial veto was enough to kill this perennially bad idea.  Governor Pawlenty deserves thanks for his firm opposition to this unhealthy legislation.

HUMAN PAPILLOMA VIRUS VACCINE INFORMATION - Efforts were made to require schools to send home information promoting a very new, inadequately tested vaccine for a sexually transmitted virus that causes cervical cancer. This vaccine has caused alarmingly serious side effects in young girls. It died during conference committee negotiations on the policy bill.
Legislation requiring physical education credits for graduation, outdoor education standards, and teaching about American Indian culture passed the legislature, but died when the policy bill was vetoed. More state mandates and promoting one culture over another are bad policy.
Some scattered good pieces of legislation also passed the legislature, but died when the policy bill was vetoed. One example was a provision to require teacher candidates to pass questions on their licensing exam demonstrating their ability to teach reading, the most essential

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