This week, the Star Tribune Editorial Board used an upcoming Minnesota Supreme Court case as the jumping-off point to highlight badly needed reforms to how Minnesota schools hire and retain teachers. We welcome this discussion and are encouraged by the board’s calls for reforms that go beyond the important step forward we were able to make during the last legislative session.
For years now, Gov. Mark Dayton and many Democrats have resisted bipartisan efforts to change the antiquated “last in, first out” (LIFO) teacher hiring/retention policy written into state law. As a result, most schools across the state continued to use seniority, rather than effectiveness or other factors, as the standard for hiring/retention decisions. The Star Tribune reported in 2015 that some schools used coin flips or the last digit of Social Security numbers — unacceptable and arbitrary standards by any measure.
Despite public opinion polls showing support from huge majorities of parents from across the political spectrum, reforms were blocked or vetoed at the behest of Education Minnesota and special interests fighting to uphold the status quo.
Finally, during the 2017 legislative session, Republicans successfully passed into law a simple provision to remove the LIFO default layoff policy in state law. This move was long overdue and an important first step in moving away from a seniority-only retention policy like LIFO. Now it will be up to each school district to craft a policy at the local level.
While this reform was monumental given the fierce opposition from the governor and the teachers union, important work still remains. Despite the change we made to state law, school districts may continue to negotiate seniority-only policies opposed by parents that disregard teacher effectiveness and put student success as a secondary consideration. That’s why we must continue moving toward a standard that ensures we’re keeping the best teachers in the classroom, rather than solely relying on seniority.
A new standard would be better for students, better for parents and more fair to the hundreds of new teachers who enter the classroom each year.
There are a variety of ways we can move beyond a seniority-only system. We are ready to work with all stakeholders — teachers, parents, schools and bargaining units — to craft a system that makes sense and treats teachers fairly.
Possible factors could include recent evaluation outcomes, overall effectiveness and a teacher’s subject matter. We don’t believe it’s prudent for schools to lay off a brand-new math or science teacher if they have struggled to fill a math or science opening. If there is an excess of English teachers but a shortage of math teachers, it’s simply common sense to take that into consideration. Let’s also consider utilizing Minnesota’s quality compensation (Q Comp) that helps schools evaluate and reward teachers who are doing tremendous work in the classroom.
We firmly believe that seniority can and should continue to be something schools consider, but it’s imperative that it not be the only factor. Let’s devise a modern, multifaceted approach that helps keep the best teachers in the classroom and keeps student success as the driving focus.
Modernizing this process is not a partisan political position. Everyone wants their child to receive an education from the best possible educators. Nearly 80 percent of Minnesotans want teacher effectiveness to be a part of these hiring and firing decisions. Parents are asking for changes, but politicians and special interests are still standing in the way.
Education has always been key to the fabric of Minnesota’s culture. It is one of the few things required to be established and funded by our state Constitution. As lawmakers, it is our duty to make sure every child in our state has access to a world-class education regardless of ZIP code. Keeping our best teachers in the classroom by including measures of effectiveness is long overdue. House Republicans will continue to push these reforms during the 2018 session.
Jenifer Loon, R-Eden Prairie, is chair of the Education Finance Committee in the Minnesota House. Sondra Erickson, R-Princeton, is chair of the Education Innovation Policy Committee.