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The Legislature’s first stab at education reform is creating some odd bedfellows

House DFL minority leader Paul Thissen and House Republican majority whip Dan Fabian agree on one thing: neither is in favor of the session’s first education bill.   

House Republican majority whip Dan Fabian, left, and House DFL minority leader Paul Thissen speaking at last week's Twin Cities North Chamber of Commerce legislative forum.
MinnPost photo by Brian Halliday

With the release of dueling tax proposals Tuesday, Gov. Dayton and legislative Republicans added another issue to the partisan divide that they’ll have to bridge before the end of the legislative session.

Dayton wants childcare tax credits for young families; Senate Republicans want tax breaks for seniors. DFLers want a tax increase to pay for transportation needs; Republicans want to pay for improvements through existing tax dollars. House Republicans want to allow consumers to bypass MNsure; DFLers would make it an agency reporting directly to the governor and legislature. 

And then there’s education, an issue that is often shaped by partisan perspectives.

But at a Twin Cities North Chamber of Commerce legislative forum I moderated last week, there was one bit of common ground: House DFL minority leader Paul Thissen and the House Republican majority whip Dan Fabian agreed on the first education reform bill of the session, a measure that would end the practice of “last in, first out” (often referred to as LIFO) when it comes to laying off public schools teachers. Neither is in favor. 

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The bill, authored by DFL state senator Terri Bonoff, modifies the teacher seniority system to include teacher evaluations in determining layoffs.   

And even though house Republicans offered a similar bill, majority whip Fabian, of Roseau, has a more nuanced view of teacher tenure. “Teachers who are more senior are often the better teachers,” he said. 

DFL minority leader Paul Thissen, of Minneapolis, said of the legislation: “This is not the silver bullet.” 

It may not be unexpected that Fabian, a former teacher, and Thissen, a Democrat, don’t want to tinker much with union rules for teachers (although in 2012 and 2013, Fabian voted for a LIFO repeal as an amendment tacked onto larger education bills). Yet their agreement on the issue went further. Both contend that addressing the state’s education gap needs vision, not micromanaging.

“If it works in Minneapolis, it doesn’t mean it’s going to work in Roseau,” Fabian said. “I don’t like legislation that’s one size fits all.”

“This [bill] is the state telling local school districts how to do it,” said Thissen. 

“No more mandates,” Fabian agreed. “I would like to allow more freedom at the local level.”

As the discussion moved to other topics, the political differences emerged. But on an issue as critical as education, the south Minneapolis Democrat and the northwestern Minnesota Republican, the yin and yang of the political dynamic this session, showed surprising agreement — at least when it comes to their distaste for the legislature’s first attempt at education reform.