State senator Mary Kiffmeyer and state house representative Eric Lucero made appearances at last Monday evening’s St. Michael-Albertville school district meeting to go over the recently adjourned 2016 legislative session. They both cheered the successful passage of a metro equity funding increase for school districts outside the metro areas of Minneapolis and St. Paul. The increase is a small .016 percent, but it will increase to .25 percent in the next couple of years, Kiffmeyer said.
Board chair Doug Birk said the increase will amount to almost $100,000 next year and around $150,000 annually once the full .25 percent increase goes into effect. Though a relatively small increase, Birk emphasized that it marks a victory in increased awareness and in finding partners willing to speak out about the issue of equity in school funding. State representative Eric Lucero said that while this funding increase doesn’t solve the problem, but it moves the state in the right direction.
“The fruits of our labor have not been in vain,” Lucero said, noting the different people who are coming together across the state in support of funding equity. “Visibility has vastly increased … we are working together to get this message out. Why equity in education is so important, the opportunity gap that it unfortunately creates and why it is very important that we solve that.
We will continue this battle next year,” he added. “I have no doubt momentum is on our side as we continue to close that gap.”
Kiffmeyer said a large amount of parental input has spurred conversation at the legislature about testing and student surveys. She said constituents have made it clear that they want more information about testing and surveys: when they will place, giving parents access to students surveys and the ability to review and opt their children out if they desire.
“There has been a lot of discussion over the last four years of how many tests, too many tests, which tests,” Kiffmeyer said. “Overall, there are a lot of concerns about duplicating them. We’re working on that, but change will be kind of slow.”
Lucero said that legislation was passed during the session to make the process of notification to parents more robust and the ability to review the surveys and opt out easier. St. Michael-Albertville superintendent, Jim Behle, said STMA’s current policies address these requirements.
Student data privacy
Representative Lucero talked at length about the issue of student-data privacy concerns and what the Minnesota legislature is doing to protect student data.
Students across the state take surveys on topics such as school climate, student-teacher relationships, safety and discipline, student drug and alcohol use, healthy eating, out-of-school activities and more. Behle said STMA students take only one survey, the Minnesota Department of Education’s Minnesota Student Survey (MSS) once every three years. MDE states the survey serves to provide data for program planning and evaluation, address relevant issues concerning students and mark trends over time, according to their web site.
Lucero said the state receives 30-40 applications per year from third parties to access this student data. He said in order to allow such a transfer of student data, best practices would demand Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) to conduct audits on IT systems of these third parties to ensure their security standards are up to par for keeping student information secure. However, Lucero said he found that MDE has not conducted audits on the IT systems of those third parties in at least 10 years.
With the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) getting involved and the issue seeing broad bi-partisan support, Lucero said he expects there to be more action coming on this issue in the next few years.
“This just begins the conversation,” Lucero said. “This is very technical language in some aspects, it touches many different areas and it definitely needs refinement and refinement by multiple stakeholders.”