With the close of Minnesota’s special legislative session, the Anoka-Hennepin School Board heard an update last week on what legislative priorities were accomplished.
The district’s goals earlier this year included addressing policy issues to reduce costs in special education while maintaining quality; maintaining the tiered licensure structure; eliminating required uses of compensatory funding; and converting the one-time funding for school safety into sustainable funding.
Al Ickler, the district’s executive director of community and government relations, pointed out this year’s regular session started normally in February but quickly shifted focus to the pandemic. Early this year the state was expecting a $1.5 billion budget surplus, but that dropped to a projected deficit of $2.4 billion due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite that, Ickler pointed out two bills passed that addressed some of the district’s goals.
The first was a House bill passed during the regular session. It mostly addressed coronavirus-related issues.
“A lot of it is very technical in nature, but highly important to make sure that schools were held essentially harmless,” Ickler said.
That bill, HF 4415, accomplished one specific goal of Anoka-Hennepin: It removed the requirement that districts use 3.5% of their compensatory revenue for extended-time activities. Compensatory revenue is used to meet the needs of underprepared students and students whose progress is below the level appropriate for their age, according to the Minnesota Department of Education.
The bill also addressed problems related to school financing formulas arising from the shift to distance learning. It adjusted appropriations to fit the new economic forecast and allowed districts to make operating fund account transfers, Ickler said.
The second bill Ickler addressed, HF 163, includes changes to special education rules that fall in line with the district’s goals. The largest piece he pointed out was a change to how functional behavior assessments can be applied.
A functional behavioral assessment is a process for identifying problem behaviors in students and determining possible supports to prevent that behavior, according to state law.
The bill allows a district to conduct the assessment as a standalone evaluation without requiring a comprehensive evaluation. Parents may request a comprehensive evaluation if they wish.
That change can reduce paperwork for special education without degrading quality of service, Ickler said.
Additionally, the bill prevents schools from dismissing preschool students for disciplinary purposes, except under certain circumstances. A school must first attempt to either collaborate with the student’s family, create a plan with parents or guardians that details the action and support needed for the student, or provide a referral for needed support services.
If a school takes the necessary steps for discipline, it is still limited to expelling a preschool student only if there is an ongoing safety threat.
Schools may also verify a student’s age for admission to publicly funded prekindergarten and preschool programs, and districts are required to provide vaping prevention instruction to students in grades six through eight, under the bill.