K-12 education changes include state school librarian, banned book banning

Now that the dust has settled from the 2024 legislative session, it’s time to unpack several noteworthy provisions pertaining to K-12 education.

Health academic standards

State academic health standards will replace locally developed standards, removing school districts’ local authority and decision-making related to health standards. Locally developed academic health standards will apply “until statewide rules implementing statewide health standards” are required to be implemented in the classroom. Review of health education standards is set to begin in the 2034-35 school year and every 10 years thereafter.

The Minnesota School Boards Association, the Minnesota Association of School Administrators, the Minnesota Elementary School Principals, and the Minnesota Association of Secondary School Principals opposed the change, citing that statewide health standards “risk overlooking local needs and undermining community engagement that our families and communities want. Local control provides flexibility, accountability, and responsiveness necessary to address the diverse health challenges facing K-12 students effectively.”

“Adopting statewide standards could overlook these differences and impose a one-size-fits-all approach, which may not be effective or feasible for every community.”

Current law already requires schools to cover the listed health subject areas — from cardiopulmonary resuscitation and automatic external defibrillator instruction to vaping awarenesscannabis usesexually transmitted infections and diseases, and mental health.

Given that uniform guidance on health education already comes from the state, this change appears to be an attempt to undermine local control and the flexibility schools currently have to adapt policies and guidelines to meet their local needs.

The Minnesota Youth Council (MYC) is required to provide “input” on the students who MDE would have to “consider advice from” when revising all academic standards. MYC was established by legislation in 2013 and describes itself as the “official statewide voice of youth” to the legislature and the governor. Its initiatives include “police free schools,” suspension bans, and the “redistribut[ion] of additional resources” to “combat environmental racism,” to name a few. The Minnesota Youth Council is part of the Minnesota Alliance With Youth, whose organizational focus is on “racial equity and anti-racism” work such as “disrupting systems of oppression.” The Minnesota Youth Council was issued a grant of $375k.

Graduation requirements

The government and citizenship course requirement for graduation has been delayed one year. Students entering 9th grade in the 2025-26 school year will be required to take a government and citizenship course in either 11th grade or 12th grade in order to graduate.

Students will also be required to complete “credits sufficient to satisfy” the state health standards upon statewide adoption.

Cell phone use

Schools are required to adopt a policy on student cell phone possession and use of in school by March 15, 2025. “The Minnesota Elementary School Principals Association and the Minnesota Association of Secondary School Principals must collaborate to make best practices available to schools on a range of different strategies in order to minimize the impact of cell phones on student behavior, mental health, and academic attainment.”

School districts are already taking this on — the Anoka-Hennepin school district modified its cell phone guidelines at the middle and high school levels last summer, removing cell phone use from the classroom to “increase student engagement and learning, and limit the negative impacts of social media.” High school students can use their phones during passing time and at lunch. Similarly, Mankato school district only allows high school students to use their phones in the hallways and at lunch. Younger students can’t pull out their phones at all during the day.

According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), who administers the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), the only cell phone school policy resulting in a statistically significant reduction in distractions as measured during math lessons was a complete cell phone ban on school premises.

Source: OECD

Book banning ban

Minnesota leaders felt compelled to make a political statement during the 2024 legislative session and pass a book banning prohibition.

“A public library [including public school libraries] must not ban, remove, or otherwise restrict access to a book or other material based solely on its viewpoint or the messages, ideas, or opinions it conveys,” according to the new law. The public library can decline to purchase, lend, or shelve books and can remove or restrict access to books or other materials for practical reasons (shelf space limitations, damage, etc.) or “legitimate pedagogical concerns, including but not limited to the appropriateness of potentially sensitive topics for the library’s intended audience…”

How will the state distinguish between “viewpoint” and “potentially sensitive”? As my colleague Bill Walsh has aptly pointed out: “If a pornographic book is found in the middle school library, a librarian can certainly remove it based on the ‘potentially sensitive topic’ criteria, exposing this whole effort as an exercise in politics, not policy. This is not serious lawmaking.”

School districts are also required to have a policy with procedures for selection of, challenges to, and reconsideration of library materials, which can often be found under a district’s library media materials selection policy.

State school librarian

The Department of Education must employ a state school librarian to provide “advice and guidance in academic standards development and statewide library data collection from district and charter schools, and related activities.”

The state school librarian will also be required to “support district and charter schools on issues of intellectual freedom, media and digital literacy, and growing lifelong readers.” The salary for the state school librarian starting in fiscal year 2026 and each fiscal year thereafter can be up to $130k.

Chronic absenteeism

Twelve districts will participate in a student attendance pilot program for the next three years starting this fall. The participating districts are required to use the pilot program aid to develop and implement “sustainable strategies” to reduce student absenteeism.

The $4.7 million pilot program includes the following districts: Minneapolis (will receive the most aid at just over $1 million), Columbia Heights ($253k), Red Lake ($196k), Sauk Rapids-Rice ($281k), Mankato ($398k), Moorhead ($374k), Cook County ($164k), Windom ($185k), Burnsville ($378k), Rochester ($670k), Northfield ($266k), and Chisholm ($170k). The rest of the funds (up to $330k) will be made available to cover administration costs.

Minneapolis, as the lead district in the pilot program, will be responsible for convening virtual quarterly meetings of all the participating districts to share updates and collaborate, developing a template for each district to use to report its goals, strategies, policies, or practices on combatting absenteeism and lessons learned, and then reporting progress and results of the pilot program. The first meeting must be held by August 1.

Four-day school week

School boards are allowed to implement a four-day school week. The commissioner of education must establish clear criteria for evaluating a district’s application to use a four-day school week plan, and annually accept district applications to use a four-day school week plan. Upon approval, a four-day school week plan may not be revoked for six years from the date it is granted.

Recently published research on schools that switched to a four-day week found clear consequences for student learning, according to a report on the data by The 74.

Absence from school for religious and cultural observances

School districts must make “reasonable efforts” to accommodate a student who wishes to be excused from a curricular activity for a religious observance (previous language) or for an “American Indian cultural practice, observance, or ceremony” (new added language).

Mental health

Starting in the 2026-27 school year, school districts and charter schools must provide mental health instruction for students in grades 4-12 aligned with local health standards and integrated into existing programs, curriculum, or the general school environment.

Beginning in October, to the extent space is available, a school district or charter school must provide a high school student access to a space at the school site to receive their mental health services through telehealth.

Unscheduled student removal from class

A public school is encouraged to adopt a school policy on parental notification if a student is removed from class under unscheduled circumstances.

Reading literacy

During the 2023 legislative session, the legislature made evidence-based reading instruction a requirement for school districts, teachers, and the teacher preparation programs that prepare teacher candidates for the classroom through the READ Act.

This session, tweaks to the READ Act were made, including allocating money to reimburse teachers for completing required training, extending a pair of training deadlines by a year, and changing how reimbursement funds for new curriculum are distributed to school districts and charter schools.

Students in kindergarten through third grade will be screened three times a year for characteristics of dyslexia compared to the previous twice per year requirement. Only screeners approved by the Department of Education may be used. After each screener, parents of students not reading at or above grade level will be given information about the student’s reading proficiency, reading-related services being provided to the student and the student’s progress, and strategies for parents to use at home to help student growth.

The Department of Education must partner with the University of Minnesota’s Center for Applied Research and Educational Improvement (CAREI) to approve literacy intervention models and make a list of at least 15 evidence-based intervention models available to districts as they are approved by CAREI starting November 1, 2025. Once approved, the department must have the models reviewed by a contracted third party for “culturally responsive guidance and materials.”

Use of assessments

Student performance on a statewide assessment may be used as one of multiple criteria to determine grade promotion or retention, and a high school student’s performance on a statewide assessment may be used as a percentage of the student’s final grade in a course or placed on the student’s transcript. (In 2013, the legislature removed required minimum test scores for a high school diploma.)

Test data release

Earlier language pushed back the public release date of Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment (MCA) scores from September 1 to December 1, raising concerns about how teachers and families could use that data to understand students’ needs before the school year begins.

The final language put back the September 1 deadline, but with exceptions.

Public reporting of MCA data remains September 1 unless the school performance reports reflect new performance standards. Then it is no later than October 1 “in years with new performance standards for academic standards-based assessments” (math, reading, and science) and no later than November 1 in years with new performance standards for English language proficiency assessments.

Paid student teaching pilot program

Teacher candidates at eight colleges and universities will be paid for their student teaching work during the 2024-25 school year regardless of their income or intended licensure area through a $6.5 million student teaching pilot program. Stipend amounts will differ based on the number of students enrolled in each program.

Participating teacher preparation program providers include: St. Cloud State University (receiving $929k to distribute); Bemidji State University ($744k); Minnesota State University, Mankato ($1.62 million); Winona State University ($1.57 million); Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College ($7k); University of Minnesota- Duluth ($1.12 million); University of Minnesota- Crookston ($103k); and Augsburg University ($317k).

The National Council on Teacher Quality analyzed student teaching/clinical practice opportunities within Minnesota’s teacher preparation programs, ranking the institutions above all at a “C” grade, except for Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College, which was not included in the analysis, and Bemidji State University and the University of Minnesota- Twin Cities, both which received a “D.”

Comprehensive Achievement and Civic Readiness

The World’s Best Workforce (WBWF) law, developed in 2013, was meant to help school districts and charter schools in Minnesota enhance student achievement and, as the name implies, create the world’s best workforce. It is now under a new name: Comprehensive Achievement and Civic Readiness.

School boards that govern districts and charter schools are tasked with adopting and maintaining a comprehensive, long-term strategic plan (previously called the World’s Best Workforce plan) to improve learning. The plan has to include at least one goal in each of the following areas: how a district/school site will meet school readiness goals, close the academic achievement gap among all racial and ethnic groups of students and between students living in poverty and students not living in poverty, have all students attain career and college readiness before graduating from high school, have all students graduate from high school, and, added this year, prepare students to be lifelong learners.

During the 2023 legislative session, the legislature removed the third-grade reading literacy goal. This could be, perhaps, because the literacy goal of the new READ Act is to have every child reading at or above grade level every year, beginning in kindergarten. As of spring 2023 data, over half of Minnesota K-12 students aren’t meeting reading standards.


An American Indian student or staff member may burn tobacco, sage, sweetgrass, and cedar to conduct individual or group smudging in a public school. The smoke created from burning the plants and herbs is then wafted over the person being smudged to “purify” or “cleanse” the soul of negative thoughts of a person or place.

Ableism and disability justice

“A teacher preparation program is encouraged to include instruction for teacher candidates on ableism and disability justice, provided by a person with a disability and expertise related to ableism and disability justice,” according to new state law.

A school district or charter school is also “encouraged to include training on ableism and disability justice provided by a person with a disability and expertise related to ableism and disability justice in its professional development activities for teachers and paraprofessionals, Title I aides, and other instructional support staff.”