Tuesday, June 18, 2024

What’s new for 2023-2024 school year?

The new school year is upon us. Byron students started classes this week and students in Hayfield, Kasson-Mantorville, and Triton return next week.

While a new school year is always a time of “firsts” for students and parents, this year marks a number of “firsts” for school districts, courtesy of the 2023 Minnesota legislative session.

Probably the biggest change that will be noticeable to parents and students locally is that school meals will now be free. And that is free for all students whether or not their families are eligible for free or reduced fee meals.

Minnesota legislators passed the universal school meals bill during the session and it was signed into law in mid-March by Gov. Tim Walz.

The legislation makes decisions on what to do about students who have outstanding lunch balances no longer an issue and for students they don’t have to remember to bring their lunch money.

School districts, however, are still asking those families who would be eligible for free or reduced lunches under the federal guidelines to continue to fill out the paperwork. Some federal aid programs for schools is still dependent on the number of students eligible for meals.

Another change that will be affecting all students, although not immediately, is that legislators passed new laws that will more strictly regulate how public schools teach reading. In Minnesota, as in schools throughout the nation, testing has shown a decline in literacy levels. This decline has been ongoing but became even more pronounced during the COVID pandemic.

Until now districts have had wide freedom to adopt their own literacy plan and decide what books and materials they wanted to use.

New rules are now requiring districts to choose from a list of methods and materials approved by the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE). The MDE is now in the process of deciding what approaches will be allowed and is expected to release the list later this year. The new plans, however, will place a greater emphasis on phonics.

All Minnesota students, will now be required to pass courses in government, citizenship, and personal finance before they can receive their high school diploma. This requirement will first affect the Class of 2028.

Currently, only about seven percent of high school students are choosing to take a personal finance class if one is offered and studies and testing has shown that civics knowledge among American high school students is at a low point.

The education bill also is requiring that districts develop an ethnic studies curriculum and let students take a course on the topic to satisfy the social studies requirement.

Another new law prohibits school from simulating active shooter situations during class times and also prohibits conducting the exercises if more than half of the enrolled students are in the building.

School districts still must conduct school lockout drills but now must give families at least a 24 hour notice when possible and have teachers have a cooling down conversation afterwards. It also requires the MDE to establish a model for those drills by July 1, 2024.

The state will also be putting more money into education. Altogether, schools will see $2.2 billion more over the next two years as funding is increase by four percent in fiscal 2024 and 2025, a two percent hike the following year, and future increases tied to the rate of inflation.

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