A proposal to bar colleges that require a statement of faith from participating in the Postsecondary Enrollment Options (PSEO) program is buried within Gov. Tim Walz’s education policy bill.
The Postsecondary Enrollment Options Act allows Minnesota high school students to earn both high school and college credits for free, since the schools are reimbursed by the state.
The bill, HF1269, amends the definition of an eligible institution to read: “An eligible institution must not require a faith statement during the application process or base any part of the admission decision on a student’s race, creed, ethnicity, disability, gender, or sexual orientation or religious beliefs or affiliations.”
The University of Northwestern–St. Paul is one such school that requires a statement of faith for all of its on-campus students.
“At Northwestern, we find great joy in delivering PSEO and dual enrollment courses to you. If the proposed language is adopted as written, Christian schools in Minnesota — including Northwestern — will be faced with making a decision on whether to continue their PSEO programs, and to what degree,” a letter written to PSEO families obtained by Alpha News reads.
GOP Sen. Jim Abeler unsuccessfully attempted to get the language regarding PSEO removed from the bill during a Senate Education Policy Committee hearing Wednesday, saying he’d received emails from concerned citizens asking him to strike the language.
DFL Sen. Erin Maye Quade, the vice chair of the committee, claimed that no students or schools contacted the committee to testify regarding the impact of the change.
But both the Senate and House hearings on the bill Wednesday were filled with concerned citizens. Two current PSEO students at faith-based colleges testified in the House regarding the legislation, saying that excluding schools that require a statement of faith is an attack on religious liberty.
“I’m here today because of the clear attack and setback on educational freedom,” said Emma Crooks, a PSEO student at Northwestern. “There is no credible evidence to suggest that this change is necessary, useful or beneficial to all. Instead, it clearly harms and cripples schools and families with a certain worldview, hindering the educational freedom of students like me.”
“I see this as a secularist attempt to stop religion,” another PSEO student told the committee.
Melinda Low, a parent of PSEO students and the organizer of a group called Taking Action for PSEO in MN, testified at both the Senate and House Education Policy committee hearings. Low shared her opposition to the proposed legislation and explained that in Minnesota, approximately 25% of PSEO students attend faith-based institutions.
“There is no good reason to change this now. It is obvious these changes will force these institutions to choose between their deeply held religious beliefs or offering PSEO,” she said. “Precedent is established in Supreme Court rulings … that religious schools should be able to participate in publicly available programs without discrimination.”
Cindy Hoffman, a homeschool mom of eight kids, three of whom graduated high school using PSEO, told Alpha News that she believes the proposal is an infringement on the rights of Christian and faith-based institutions.
“This not only will hurt the homeschools and private schools, but will take freedom of choice away from public schoolers who want these choices and options available to them as well,” Hoffman said.
“It’s an attack on Christianity and Christian institutions. Would there be the same attack on Muslim, Buddhist, or Hindu institutions that have a statement of belief?” said Beckie Lonnes, the parent of a current PSEO student at Crown College.
She told Alpha News that the change would create a shortage of available programs.