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VIEWPOINT: Education reform bills deserve support this session

As a parent and former schoolteacher, I've always had a passion for education. A quality, well-rounded education can open up a world of opportunities for children, guiding them down a lifelong path of accomplishment and achievement. 

Now that I'm fortunate enough to be your state legislator, I am excited about the chance I have to craft legislation to improve our schools in Minnesota and expand academic opportunities for every student. I'd like to share a few of the initiatives I am working on this session.

First, a bill I am particularly proud to author is the Education Savings Accounts for Students with Special Needs Act. This legislation empowers parents to choose educational options that best fit the needs of their child, offering them more choice and flexibility, while removing financial constraints.

Our public schools do a great job of educating students but do not always have the resources to meet the needs of every child with special needs, whether they have Down syndrome, autism, dyslexia or a variety of other learning challenges. Some parents find the traditional special education model just doesn't work for their child. 

If my bill becomes law, the state would deposit the per-pupil funding amount that would normally go toward that child's public school education into a personal savings account. Families could then use that money for tuition to a school that better caters to their child's needs, for therapies, for textbooks or for tutoring.

This Education Savings Account has already been introduced in several other states, increasing the opportunities for underprivileged families to access the best education for their children and helping kids with special needs thrive academically.  

This is an innovative, outside-the-box solution that can make a real difference in the lives of Minnesota kids, and I am pleased it's moving forward this session.

In addition to the Education Savings Account Act, I am also advancing legislation addressing the teacher shortage crisis in Minnesota. 

Many school districts across the state struggle to find and hire quality teachers, especially in subject areas like math, science and special education. My bipartisan teacher license reciprocity legislation will make it easier to bring qualified teachers into our classrooms by streamlining the out-of-state licensure process between Minnesota and neighboring states with similar licensure requirements. 

Additionally, as a former educator who came to Minnesota with an out-of-state license, I learned firsthand the burdensome hoops experienced teachers have to jump through to get licensed here. It can be costly, frustrating and time consuming, and the licensure process is often unclear. 

Introducing commonsense reforms to teacher licensure doesn't cut into our state's high standards for teachers, but instead clarifies the licensure process so practiced, veteran educators can receive a Minnesota teaching license.

Finally, the last education bill I am advancing this session is the Principals' Leadership Development Bill. While we often think of teachers as the most visible person in a child's life at school, principals are responsible for ensuring all students receive a high-quality education in each and every classroom. Principals play a critical role in creating a successful school environment, which greatly impacts student achievement, and they help develop and support our world-class teachers.

Despite the critical and challenging role of today's principals, very few receive ongoing professional development, helping to enhance their abilities to lead our high-performing schools. My bipartisan bill will help more principals across the state participate in the Principals’ Leadership Institute at the University of Minnesota or at the Minnesota State University in Mankato. This program is a great tool for principals, offering research-based methods to help them raise student achievement, understand ways to meet the critical challenges of educating students and improve the schools they serve.

Every child deserves a world-class education, and I am honored to be advancing education reform legislation this session. 

As always, if you have questions, concerns or input about what is happening in the legislature, I welcome you to share your thoughts with me. Your input is valuable and guides me toward supporting legislation that best serves our community. 

<i>Kelly Fenton represents Minnesota House of Representatives District 53B. She can be reached at 651-296-1147 or<i>