- Associated Press - Sunday, December 21, 2014

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) - A retired English teacher will help set Republicans’ agenda for making changes to the state’s schools.

Rep. Sondra Erickson, a Princeton Republican who retired from teaching in 2000, said school districts have been dizzied by new rules and policies after three elections that shifted control of state government. And though House Republicans’ Election Day victory brought them back into the majority, Erickson’s education plans must contend with Democrats who control the Senate and governor’s office.

As chairwoman of the House Education policy committee, she has one mantra: Slow things down.

Still, she and fellow Republicans have changes big and small in mind. Here’s a taste of what may be in store for schools this session.

LAST IN, FIRST OUT

It’s coming back.

Quieted by two years of Democrats’ full control of government, Republicans are sure to pursue changing the process by which public school teachers are laid off. GOP lawmakers who controlled the Legislature in 2012 passed a bill eliminating so-called “last in, first out” rules, but Gov. Mark Dayton vetoed the change. State law still says schools can only consider teacher seniority when making layoffs, unless districts negotiate different local policies.

Many Democrats would likely again oppose changing that.

Several Senate Democrats say they would prefer to see how a recent teacher evaluation system rolls out. Denise Specht, president of the teachers union Education Minnesota, called the change a solution in search of a problem. She said nearly half of Minnesota’s school districts have implemented their own layoff policies.

But outgoing Education Committee Chairman Rep. Carlos Mariani, DFL-St. Paul, said some Democrats may be on board as long as Republicans don’t throw seniority completely out the window in the layoff process.

“Folks have been dwelling on that for a few years,” he said.

ACHIEVEMENT GAP

Democrats and Republicans agree: Teachers are crucial to tackling the state’s achievement gap between white and minority students.

They just disagree on how.

To the GOP, addressing how teachers are laid off - and assigned to different schools - would ensure better teachers stay in the classrooms they’re needed most.

“We’re ending up with the newest teachers, the least experienced, in the toughest classrooms. That just is not good for students,” Erickson said.

Sen. Patricia Torres Ray, DFL-Minneapolis, said she wants to tackle the achievement gap by recruiting a more diverse teacher pool and pumping more money into teacher training.

TESTING

Good news, students: Lawmakers think you have to take too many tests.

Well, most of them anyway.

There’s the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments throughout middle school, the ACT before high school graduation and any number of tests picked by local school districts. State legislators, education advocacy groups and the state’s teachers union are all calling for changes.

“We’re double-testing our kids,” said Republican Sen. Carla Nelson, a former teacher from Rochester. “We should be streamlining our tests.”

Erickson said she’d like to nix the state’s mandate for ACTs, but still cover the cost for high school students that want to take it. Others have called to end the MCA, or align them with the college assessment exam.

A state task force studying Minnesota school testing will set the stage for possible changes with recommendations due next month.

COMMON CORE

A seat in state government power gives Minnesota Republicans a chance to beat the drum against Common Core, the standards meant to better prepare students for college and careers.

GOP lawmakers across the country have criticized Common Core as a nationalized curriculum. Minnesota adopted only the reading and language arts standards, opting for its own math metrics.

Still, Erickson said Republican lawmakers will take to the House floor or committee hearings to protest those standards, because they were “developed outside the local arena.”

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