Senator Nelson comments on passage of education bill

Senator Carla Nelson
4 min readMay 18, 2024

Minnesota State Senator Carla Nelson (R-Rochester) today commented on the passage of an education bill agreed to by House and Senate conference committee negotiators.

Sen. Nelson noted the bill contained both encouraging and troubling provisions.

“I’m thankful we were able to restore funding for the successful P-TECH program in Rochester and look at expanding this innovative career partnership model to other districts,” Sen. Nelson said. “I also appreciate the steps taken to implement the science of reading through the READ Act, though we must ensure proper training for teachers on evidence-based reading instruction methods.”

However, Senator Nelson expressed disappointment that the bill excludes charter schools from receiving Safe Schools aid, despite charters being public schools with the same safety needs. She also criticized a provision allowing the Minnesota Department of Education to mandate statewide health curriculum standards, which she pointed out overrides local control.

“With a massive increase in education spending over the past two years amid declining enrollment, it’s very concerning that charter school student safety was not prioritized,” Sen. Nelson added. “I’m also firmly opposed to the state micromanaging health curriculum decisions that belong in the hands of locally-elected school boards.”

VIDEO CLIP: Senator Nelson’s floor speech about the bill.

Transcript:

I do want to thank Senator Kunesh, Chair Kunesh, for restoring the P TECH funding. We had quite a long discussion about that on the Senate floor when this bill first came forward. And I appreciate greatly the fact that we are not cannibalizing a very successful P TECH program — in this case, Rochester — in order to fund others.

I appreciate the tack that has been taken in not only preserving P TECH, but looking forward and how we can fund additional P TECH’s at the same time that we are supporting a successful P TECH. It truly is a remarkable, remarkable program — Career Program Partnership with employers and our school districts and our colleges. So very glad for that.

I also wanted to mention another piece in this bill, which I think is important. And this has to do with the READ Act. Again, I’m thankful to see that finally we are moving to where the science points when it comes to the teaching of reading. This is something many of us have worked on for years in this body. And last year, we were very pleased to see the READ Act, and that this body, this legislature invested in our youth and making sure that kids can read using the scientific method for teaching reading.

Let me just take aside and say it’s shameful that 50% of our kids are not reading at grade level, that is a siren call. That is a red flag. That is a Mayday flag when it comes to our education, and to those children’s futures. So we must make sure all of our kids can read. And I appreciate the READ Act and Senator Maye Quade’s leadership on that.

But as you have heard already, tonight, the implementation was a bit flawed. And there are concerns still today that I’m hearing from my school districts. For example, teachers would very much like to take the LETRS training — the gold standard for the scientific teaching of reading. However, because of the way the program was set up it’s very difficult for them to be able to take that intensive, Goldstar training, which is really what we need. And so I encourage us as we move forward that we look — continue to monitor the READ Act and monitor to make sure that teachers are getting that training that they need to teach the scientific process for reading.

So those are positive things and positive steps in the bill.

But I’m going to also speak to a couple things that are really disappointing. And that is that Safe Schools aid is excluded for charter schools. Charter schools are public schools. They are just as open or have just as many concerns about their students’ safety as noncharter public schools. And it’s really hard to fathom that with a $2.2 billion increase last year in education funding, and another it looks like — can’t tell how much we have additional funding in this bill — $43 million, plus $18 million, plus $50 million, plus $537 million more. So with the target, again, this year, an additional 43 million. It’s just shocking, quite frankly, that there was no prioritizing safety for students in charter schools.

And so especially when we had such a large budget deficit, our education spending now is 24.6 billion — a 22% increase over the previous biennium, when we have fewer students. And so it’s just rather disappointing and really hard to understand why our charter schools are being denied safe school funding. I think that’s something that we should, we should definitely look at.

And then lastly, Members, I’m going to mention a troubling trend that I see here again tonight. And that is the state often times stepping in to local school districts and really trying to micromanage those local school districts in many ways. And the one that we see tonight is the State Health academic standards mandate.

So now the Minnesota Department of Education is going to use rulemaking to replace locally adopted health standards and curriculum. Again, I believe we need to trust our locally elected school board members. And I am opposed to that provision.

And because of that, because of the things I mentioned here, it was a mix of good things that we’re glad to see, some cautions moving forward, and some concerns. I will not be supporting this bill tonight.

--

--