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DFL Bills Promote Mental Health Curricula, Continue Child Care Takeover and Micromanage High School Counseling

February 20, 2010
Continuing the big government trend to spend money that neither the state nor federal governments have for ideas that are not only not at all needed, but are actually intrusive and harmful, a trio of bills will be heard in House education committees this week
1. HF 664 (Welti)/ SF 1531 (Torres Ray) heard in the House Education Policy Committee on 2/17 at 8:30 AM - This bill as introduced required the commissioner of education to establish a model mental health curriculum for grades 7-12.  The proposed substitute amendment instead encourages districts to develop these curricula and demands that the Minnesota Department of Education provide support based on the national health education standards and a bunch of Minnesota developed benchmarks that are not even easily available for public review.
This is a bad idea for numerous reasons.  First, national and international groups like the World Health Organization, the US Surgeon General, and authors of psychiatry's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual all admit that the definitions of both mental health and mental illness, especially in children and adolescents, is difficult to uniformly describe and is based on ever-changing societal and cultural norms.  Secondly, this is further psychologization of curriculum open to political indoctrination and labeling.  Thirdly, it is a diversion from academic curricula when math and reading scores are stagnant and there are large achievement gaps between poor students often from single parent families and middle class students.  Finally, neither cash-strapped districts nor the state department that is subject to further budget cuts from the governor's proposed budget balancing plan can afford this.
Dr. Effrem covered these points in her testimony, which is available here starting at 57:35.  Unfortunately, the bias of Chairman Mariani and the DFL members of the committee was strongly in favor of this idea, despite its many problems.  Republican representatives Connie Doepke, Jennifer Loon, Randy Demmer, and Keith Downey all asked good questions and had strong comments.  The bill passed this committee and will next be heard in the House Education Finance committee on Wednesday, February 24th at 2:45 PM.
2. HF 2760 (Slawik) / SF 2505 (Bonoff) heard in the House Early Childhood Committee on 2/16 at 4:30 PM - This bill seeks to use federal funds to continue to expand and implement the Quality Rating System that EdWatch described and opposed in the last session.
This continues to be a bad idea for many reasons.   Even though the program is touted as voluntary, private and religious childcare providers will be forced to join in order to compete in the marketplace.  These providers will also be required to teach the controversial Early Childhood Indicators of Progress that is non-academic and promotes many divisive social issues, regardless of their beliefs or the beliefs of the families in their care.  Providers will also be forced to give the subjective Kindergarten Readiness Assessment.  Finally, aside from the fact that both the state and federal governments are broke, there is also a significant financial and regulatory burden for already distressed small businesses to join this system.
Dr. Effrem testified also against this bill with audio available here.  (Testimony begins at 1:22:40).  Despite some good Republican questions, the DFL controlled committee was also in favor of this bill. It will be laid over for consideration to be added to the omnibus early childhood bill.
3. HF 2705 (Peterson) / SF 2446 (Rest) heard in the House Education Policy Committee on 2/17 at 4:30 PM - This bill spends what the authors must think is a magically appearing spare nearly $2 million in 2010 and another nearly $1.5 million in 2011 to impose a new micromanaging mandate on all school districts and school districts.  These schools "must assist all students by no later than grade 9 to explore their college and career interests and aspirations and to develop a plan for a smooth and successful transition to postsecondary education or employment." 
The bill lists no less than seven items that districts must do that include "help[ing] students identify personal learning styles that may affect their postsecondary education and employment choices" and "identify[ing] collaborative partnerships with postsecondary institutions, economic development agencies, and employers that support students' transition."  Isn't this what the taxpayers already spend many millions of dollars per year to pay high school counselors to do?  Why is this any of the state or legislature's business?  In addition, this bill was brought forth by the Governor's Workforce Development Council, with the added specters of further massive private data collection and career tracking and interaction with the P-20 Partnership of which Minnesota is already unfortunately a part.  This partnership works to create a "seamless system" of government control of education and work life from preschool through graduate school and beyond and is part of the priorities of the Race to the Top application to which there is bipartisan opposition.
Dr. Effrem's testimony is available here, starting at 1:24:50. Fortunately, there was strong bipartisan opposition to this bill well delineated by Rep. Keith Downey (R-Edina) and Rep. Jerry Newton (D-Coon Rapids).  Although the bill passed on a close voice vote, it would likely have failed had a division been called and faces a very uncertain future if and when it is heard in the Education Finance Committee 
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