Source: Session Daily
Pledging to “bring some balance back to St. Paul,” House Republican leaders unveiled their first five bills of 2015 on Thursday. The initial volley of legislation puts an emphasis on Greater Minnesota issues ranging from rural employment and housing to roads and bridges.
“We felt like in the last two years, Greater Minnesota really got left behind,” House Speaker Kurt Daudt (R-Crown) said.
“I don’t want Minneapolis or St. Paul or the suburbs to feel in the next two years like they’re left behind, but we do need to understand that the dynamics of the metro area and Greater Minnesota are different. Policies affect those two areas very differently.”
The bills focused on five areas: jobs, K-12 education, elder care, transportation and health care.
Daudt emphasized that the Republican majority’s top-priority bills are works in progress, and that he expects to see provisions change through the course of the session.
“We think this really is a starting point,” he said. “We hope that with input from Minnesotans — from Democrats, from staff, from citizens — we will make these bills the best they can be.”
As expected, Republican leaders have made merit-based teacher retention policies for school districts one of their top K-12 education legislative priorities.
HF2, sponsored by Rep. Jenifer Loon (R-Eden Prairie), would allow school districts greater flexibility in using annual teacher evaluations along with seniority as a measuring stick if/when decisions are made to cut teaching staff. A 2011 law mandates annual teacher evaluations, and Loon said HF2 would further ensure all students have access to the highest quality teachers.
“It’s important that we are on a system of continuous improvement and we know that next to parent involvement the most important factor in the successful education of all our children is quality teachers,” said Loon, who chairs the House Education Finance Committee. “We’re going to take that evaluation system and say that if the schools are in the difficult situation of having to make a reduction in our teaching force, those evaluations that measure teacher performance will be part of the process.”
Rep. Paul Marquart (DFL-Dilworth) characterized the proposal as a disappointing first effort by Republicans to invest in education.
“I don’t see going after hardworking teachers as the approach to do this,” Marquart said. “Evaluations are important; making sure we have the best teachers in classroom (is) important. That’s already being done right now.”
HF2 also would streamline the process for out-of-state teacher licensure and increase flexibility for school districts to hire local community experts to provide vocational career and technical classes to high school students.