Red Lake Nation News - Babaamaajimowinan (Telling of news in different places)

By Brad Swenson
Bemidji Pioneer 

Education reform that wasn’t


With the stroke of Gov. Mark Dayton’s red veto pen, the Minnesota House Republicans’ sweeping education reform measure fell by the wayside during the recently concluded legislative session. Had it passed, it could have put Minnesota on a path similar to that taken by Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin.

Walker, who won his recall election Tuesday, virtually ended collective bargaining for public workers in Wisconsin, which triggered the recall election. But voters apparently believe in Walker’s efforts, having voted to keep him in office.

The Minnesota House GOP education reform plan certainly didn’t go that far, but attempted to put a chink in collective bargaining policy toward teacher layoffs. The GOP sought to repeal provisions in bargaining that called for the use of LIFO — Last In First Out — referring to collective bargaining policy for public school layoffs of teachers, that the last teachers hired are the first teachers laid off.

House Republicans sought to replace that policy with a formula to rank the effectiveness of teachers, thus doing away with teacher seniority in making layoffs. Teacher layoffs are common every year as school districts adapt their staffing with budget estimates, which usually aren’t firmed up until after the Legislature adjourns.

The Republicans sought to continue reforms they started last year, calling this year’s reforms Reform 2.0, says Rep. Dave Hancock, R-Bemidji, a member of the House Higher Education Committee. This committee took on the issue of more scholarship funds, especially for Metro students. The House Education Committee took up the ban LIFO effort.

“The LIFO bill, in terms of long-term benefit to the students and the educators, is an important concept,” Hancock told me. “What it entails is that at a time where a teacher is replaced … from a lack of enrollment. As it is now seniority is the sole criteria of retention.”

The House GOP bill would still consider time of service as a criteria but it also would consider performance and the field in which the teacher have a specialty, he said.

“It did stipulate, to my recollection, economic measures will not be considered in the equation,” Hancock said. “In other words, the fact of the senior teacher making more money would be the first out to benefit the school district. Those figures should not be considered; it should be based on basically performance, licensure field and length of services.”

Minnesota is currently in a downtrend in school enrollments, forcing school districts to lay off more teachers.

“I think personally … I would say people considered good people going into education are saying, ‘Boy, I might have a job one, two, three years but as enrollments continue to shrink, I’m the first out.’ It discourages good people from going into the educational field.”

Whether it’s in the education field or as a tire salesman, which Hancock was, he says new blood can always improve an organization. “Certainly some of our better teachers are some of our younger teachers who are bringing new ideas and new enthusiasm and a new perspective to the educational system.”

Today we’re seeing more collaboration between education and business, said Hancock. “That influx of varying partners in the educational field requires that we bring new ideas, new people, new energy into the mix.”

Dayton, and his veto message, said that “unfortunately, despite my request and despite the tremendous progress we made last year through bipartisan cooperation, members of majority caucuses in both the House and Senate have introduced 22 bills in the session, which are anti-public schools, anti-public school teachers, or anti-collective bargaining rights. Majority caucus members continue to denigrate Minnesota’s public school teachers, with little or no recognition or appreciation for the extraordinarily dedicated work almost all of them do under ever more challenging circumstances.”

The bill was heavily lobbied against by Education Minnesota, the state teachers union, which has a large presence in St. Paul.

“Instead of tackling the serious challenges facing public education, the Republican majority’s top priority for our schools this session has been to further regulate teacher layoffs,” Education Minnesota President Tom Dooher said last month. “The priority should have been making layoffs unnecessary. Fewer teachers usually result in even larger class sizes and more frustrated students and parents. Our legislative leaders let them all down.”


Brad Swenson retired after more than three decades with the Pioneer. He was the newspaper’s Opinion page and political editor. Email him at


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