Minnesota's teaching corps could become more racially diverse and school districts would need to notify teachers before placing students with violent histories in their classroom, under a budget passed by the Minnesota House on Monday night.
A bipartisan coalition of House members approved a GOP-led proposed budget for schools and state colleges and universities that does not spend any new money in the current two-year budget cycle. Instead, spending on some new proposals is expected to be paid for with $55 million from faster repayment of state loans by some school districts. The measure passed 84 to 46.
"Our legislation contains funding and policy provisions that address the pressing needs of students and schools across the state, offering solutions, options and flexibility," said Rep. Jenifer Loon, R-Eden Prairie, chairwoman of the House Education Finance Committee.
House Republicans this year have proposed largely holding the line on the current $42 billion two-year budget.
"The education bill should be the most exciting bill of the session because it's what defines our commitment to the future of our state, but this bill is generating zero excitement — that's what happens when you make zero investment in education," said House DFL Leader Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis.
Among new programs contained in the broad budget bill are proposals to recruit and retain teachers of color in Minnesota, where statewide only 4 percent of teachers are minorities.
Loon, chairwoman of the House Education Finance Committee, said the bill would offer loan forgiveness and tuition incentives for educators. There's also grant money for paraprofessionals in education who are interested in becoming licensed teachers.
The teacher workforce effort had bipartisan support, and was part of DFL Gov. Mark Dayton's budget proposal released earlier this year.
Loon also highlighted a measure she sponsored that would form a working group to examine school discipline problems, particularly after several high-profile assaults on teachers. Teachers would be notified if students with past incidents of violence are placed in their classrooms.
House DFLers largely decried the budget proposal, arguing that with a $900 million projected budget surplus, legislators should spend more on education.
Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, intensified criticism of House Republicans' still-to-be-unveiled tax cut package, using it to contrast priorities between the two caucuses.
"What this bill is more than any other bill is about our priorities," Thissen said. "The Republicans have clearly made their priority tax cuts for well-connected special interests. The Democrats have made their priority investments in our kids and in our future."
The GOP budget proposal is not likely to fare well in the DFL-controlled Senate or with Dayton, who has pushed for more education spending, particularly for low-income students.
The measure is likely to be part of final budget negotiations for the session.
Thissen and other DFL leaders also criticized Republicans' budget proposal to fund state colleges and universities, saying it did not go far enough to help students with growing student-loan debt.
Fetal tissue research
Rep. Bud Nornes, R-Fergus Falls, who chairs the Higher Education Policy and Finance Committee, highlighted some policy changes he said are in response to "controversial" university research using aborted fetal tissue.
Scientists say that these early-stage cells are valuable in transplants and the creation of medical treatments, but they are controversial because they come from elective abortions.
The legislation would require that any such research receive prior approval from the University of Minnesota's Institutional Review Board. Among other requirements, the review board, which provides oversight of research involving human subjects, would conduct "frequent, random and unannounced compliance audits of research using human tissue." The bill also commissions a legislative report on the use of fetal tissue in research that would be due in January 2017.
University officials have mounted an aggressive defense of fetal tissue research after an uproar last year when they mistakenly denied that the hotly debated work took place on campus.
This came after heated debates in 2007 and 2008 at the State Capitol, when some legislators pushed for bans or restrictions on research involving fetal tissue.
The campaign includes tighter rules on the way researchers acquire, use and dispose of the tissue. The U also will add security at home or work for as many as 10 researchers working with fetal tissue.
The higher education budget provisions include measures to improve oversight of psychiatric drug trials at the University of Minnesota, following the 2004 death of a study participant.
Specifically, the legislation would expand the role of the U's ombudsman for mental health and developmental disabilities. The ombudsman would have oversight of individuals enrolled in clinical drug studies.