Summary of the 2017 Innovation Zone Legislation

As passed in the 2017 special session of the Minnesota Legislature and signed into law on May 30, 2017. See H.F. 2, Lines 67.6 to 70.36.

Establishing an Innovation Zone

One or more school districts or charter schools may join together to form an innovation zone partnership. The partnership can also include non-school partners, including but not limited to postsecondary institutions, nonprofit organizations, and units of government.

The purpose of an innovation zone partnership is to implement and research innovative approaches to learning. These new approaches can be based either on models already supported by research, or on proposed hypotheses that may not yet be studied.

Some examples of innovations listed in law that can be tried in zones include, but are not limited to:

  • Personalized learning
  • Use of competencies rather than seat time and course completions to fulfill standards, credits, and other graduation requirements
  • Multidisciplinary, real-world, inquiry-based, and student-directed models that are designed to make learning more engaging and relevant
  • Models of instruction that are designed to close the achievement gap, which include but are not limited to new models for learners age 3 to grade 3, English as a second language, and early identification and prevention of mental health issues
  • New partnerships between secondary schools and postsecondary institutions, employers, or career training institutions
  • New methods of collaborative leadership and professional development for educators
  • New ways to enhance parental and community involvement in learning

Developing an Innovation Zone Plan

A plan for an innovation zone must be developed in collaboration with instructional staff at all participating schools, then approved by all participating school boards, and then submitted to the commissioner of education for final approval.

An innovation zone plan must, at a minimum, describe the following:

  • The role of each partner in the zone
  • How teachers and other educational staff from each participating school will be included in the planning and implementation process
  • Expected outcomes and graduation standards, including how the zone will improve student and school outcomes that are consistent with the World’s Best Workforce (MN Stat. 120B.11)
  • Timeline for implementing the plan and assessing the outcomes
  • Research methodology used for each proposed action in the plan
  • How the research findings and results will be disseminated
  • Exemptions from the list below that the zone will use

Exemptions from State Law and Rule

Innovation zone plans can list some or all of the following exemptions from state laws and rules, which will be used by the zone. The plan must explicitly list which exemptions it will use.

Exemption How It Might be Used
1. Any law or rule from which a district-created, site-governed school is exempt (123B.045). This essentially waives district schools in innovation zones from the same laws and rules waived for charter schools.
2. Any statute or rule from which the commissioner has exempted another district or charter school. Could be used to save innovation zone members from having to independently apply for a number of commonly-sought waivers. Instead, they could seek those waivers all at once via their innovation zone plan.
3. Online learning program approval (124D.095, subdivision 7), but only if the school district or charter school offers a course or program online combined with direct access to a teacher for a portion of that course or program. Could be used to enable “blended learning”.
4. Restrictions on extended time revenue (126C.10, subdivision 2a) for a student who meets the eligible pupil criteria as defined under MN Statute 124D.68, subdivision 2. Could be used to provide additional targeted interventions during the school day for at-risk students.
5. Any required hours of instruction in any class or subject area for a student who is meeting all competencies consistent with the graduation standards described in the innovation zone plan. Could be used to enable “competency-based progression”.

Advisory Panel and Commissioner Approval

The legislation creates an Innovation Research Zone Advisory Panel, whose function is to review innovation zone plans that are submitted, and recommend them for approval to the commissioner of education. The commissioner retains final decision-making authority on approval of the plans.

The Panel is to be comprised of nine members—one each from the following organizations: Education Minnesota, Educators for Excellence, Minnesota Association of Secondary School Principals, Minnesota Elementary School Principals’ Association, Minnesota Association of School Administrators, Minnesota School Boards’ Association, Minnesota Association of Charter Schools, the Office of Higher Education, and at least one additional member with expertise in evaluation and research.

The commissioner may approve up to a total of three innovation zone plans in the seven-county metropolitan area and up to three in greater Minnesota.

Interested in Becoming an Innovation Zone?

Education Evolving is happy to help and advise schools and districts applying for this new 2017 innovation zone status, and make connections to other districts applying. If you are interested in learning more please email Krista Kaput, our Manager of Policy and Research, at

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