By Don Davis
Minnesota senators joined the House on Thursday night in voting to eliminate a law requiring students to pass a test before graduating high school.
The Democratic-Farmer-Labor education bill, spending nearly $15.7 billion in the next two years, passed 35-28 after Republicans refused to vote for 10 minutes when Senate President Sandra Pappas, DFL-St. Paul, did not call on two GOP members seeking to speak. Most Republicans eventually put up their “no” votes, but some sat in their seats and never voted.
Three Democrats joined Republicans in opposing the measure after a debate lasting more than nine hours.
The bill would eliminate the test high school students now must pass before graduating. Under the bill, students could graduate once they receive the required number of academic credits.
The Senate bill would require schools to work with students to make post-high school plans for college or a career. Students showing enough achievement by 11th grade would take a college entrance exam and be encouraged to attend college.
Students deemed not ready for college would receive remedial aid.
Republicans said the DFL plan would leave a question about whether students are qualified to receive a diploma. But Education Finance Chairman Chuck Wiger, DFL-Maplewood, said the bill requires graduates to successfully receive specific credits to graduate.
“It is more than seat time,” Wiger said.
Sen. Greg Clausen, DFL-Apple Valley, said all students should not be judged by the same test because they “have different abilities, different skills, different interests. … They don’t learn at the same pace.”
Sen. Branden Petersen, R-Andover, said students need to pass the standard test or they would “graduate from high school under false pretenses.”
Sen. Sean Nienow, R-Cambridge, said killing the test means Minnesota would have “a complete lack of standards. … They don’t have to prove they know anything.”
An amendment to restore the graduation test failed 34-31.
The overall bill would spend nearly $15.7 billion in the next two years, the largest single portion of the state’s $38 billion budget.
The Senate-passed bill is similar to what the House approved earlier this week and Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton wants. The three funding plans will go to a conference committee to work out differences before final House and Senate votes next month.
The Senate and House bills would provide funds for free all-day kindergarten for all Minnesota students.
Clausen said all-day kindergarten helps prepare students to eventually succeed in the workforce.
“All-day kindergarten provides a foundation for learning, improves student achievement and reduces achievement gaps,” Clausen said. “All students need to have access to quality all-day kindergarten programs.”
He said schools that now offer the option for a fee charge $300 to $400 per month, which is “creating educational winners and losers.”
The education bill also would:
— Provide $50 million in scholarships so 7,000 children in poor families may attend preschool.
— Increase per-pupil state aid by an average of $526 in the next two years.
— Require schools “to assist all students to explore college and career interests.”
— Continue mathematics, reading and writing tests, but not require passage to receive a diploma.
— Provide $150 million in property tax relief.
— Eliminate current requirement that teachers pass a test before being licensed.
— Require youths to attend high school until they are 17, one year longer than now required.
— Allow Tracy schools to levy remaining disabled access levy in the next two years.
— Let Norman County West levy up to $27,500 each of the next two years to repair an elevator.
— Permit Cyrus and Morris school districts to issue up to $1 million in bonds to demolish the Cyrus school building as the districts consolidate.
Reporter Danielle Killey contributed to this story.