The Senate Education Committee on Thursday spent nearly three hours debating two measures, one already approved by the GOP-led House, that would require school districts consider performance, not only seniority, when forced to lay off teachers because of budget cuts. 

Over the course of the debate, parents, school board members, superintendents and even a neuroscience expert brought in by Education Minnesota, the state's teachers union, gave lively testimony on the two pieces of legislation. 

Education Minnesota, which represents 70,000 teachers in the state, has vigorously opposed the legislation, arguing that it would undermine a recently implemented teacher evaluation law. The union's chief criticism is that it would kill collaboration among teachers and instead pit them against one another since peer reviews are a component of teacher evaluation requirements.

Sen. Terri Bonoff, DFL-Minnetonka, sponsor of one the bills, is the only DFL legislator this session to support revising seniority rules for teachers, putting her at odds with most of the DFL party, which has argued against the proposed legislation.

Bonoff said she rejected that notion and said that teachers are more professional than that. She argued that most of school districts' teacher evaluations plans were designed with teacher input.

"This is not about keeping young people over old people," Bonoff said. It's about "serving students to the best of our ability...this issue is a matter of civil rights."

Josh Davis, a researcher with the NeuroLeadership Institute based in New York, testified that evaluation systems with rankings hurt morale and that teachers with low ratings would be distracted from their jobs.

"When there's any kind of threat [low evaluation rating] to our status... it's very hard to concentrate," he told the committee.

After debate ended, Senate Education Committee Chair Chuck Wiger, DFL-Maplewood, said the bills would be laid over for possible inclusion in an omnibus education bill. Bonoff said she hopes to include the legislation in final negotiations toward the end of the legislative session. 

For more testimony from this morning's hearing, check out the Star Tribune's live blog from the hearing here.

House File 2, which passed the lower legislative chamber on a 70-63 vote last week, would also would also make it easier for out-of-state teachers to become licensed in Minnesota, a process critics say is currently too cumbersome and requires the help of a lawyer to navigate.

The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Eric Pratt, R-Prior Lake, would require the state’s Board of Teaching to allow educators from neighboring states to transfer their license to Minnesota. The measure's sponsor in the House was Rep. Jenifer Loon, R-Eden Prairie.

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