In 1913, the Legislature established the Public Education Commission (commonly known as the Education Commission) to study and investigate public education, including the public school system, other public educational institutions, and their relation to one another. They were to also revise, collate, and make a digest of all laws and decisions relating to public education in the state and recommend a general plan for the organization and administration of public education and public educational institutions [Laws 1913 c571]. The Superintendent of Public Instruction was a member of the Commission.
As a result of the Commission's findings, the Department of Education and the State Board of Education were formally established in 1919 [Laws 1919 c334]. The names Department of Education and Superintendent of Education had been in use since at least 1915, however. The State Library Commission, the State High School Board, and the office of the State Superintendent of Education were eliminated with the establishment of the Department of Education and all duties and responsibilities of those agencies were transferred to the new department.
The State Board of Education, composed of citizens appointed by the Governor, by and with the approval of the Senate, was to oversee and administrate the Department of Education. The Board was mandated to assume responsibility for the state examinations and elect a Commissioner of Education to serve as its executive officer and secretary. The Board was initially divided into six divisions: rural schools, high and graded schools, building and sanitation, and special classes for defectives, library, employment bureau, and re-education and placement of injured persons. The number and focus of the divisions, however, changed over the years, including the addition of business, legal, personnel, and vocational education and rehabilitation.
Significant changes occurred in the Department of Education in 1965 due to the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 [ESEA]. ESEA, which emphasized low-income and undereducated youth, included a section that provided grants to strengthen state departments of education. The Education Department used that funding to increase its size, funding, and authority through projects such as a study of Minnesota education, staffing of a publications section, streamlining the teacher certification process, developing a state master plan on special education, and executing a school transportation cost comparability study.
Also in the 1960s, the department dealt with the elimination through consolidation of six thousand of the state's school districts, begun during a 1957 renumbering of all the state's districts from individual county systems to one statewide system [Laws 1957 c947 art1 s2].
The 1970s saw further expansion of the department's services, mostly through programs created or expanded to make education more accessible and inclusive, including bilingual, migrant, Indian, and special education. Other expanded services included the school lunch program, early childhood education programs, an environmental education program, a Right to Read program, and a literacy campaign. Vocational education was also greatly emphasized.
In 1983, Governor Rudy Perpich appointed the first woman to head the Department of Education. Ruth Evelyn Benson served as Minnesota's education commissioner from 1983 to 1990.
Through the efforts of the Education Department, Minnesota, in 1985, became the first state to adopt postsecondary options, a program allowing high school juniors and seniors to take college courses at public and private postsecondary institutions at government expense; in 1987, it was the first state to adopt statewide open enrollment, allowing students to attend public schools across district lines, and in 1991, it was the first state to pass a charter school law.
In 1995, the Department of Education was rolled into the newly created Department of Children, Families & Learning [CFL; Laws 1995 1st Spec. Sess. C3 a16]. The creation of the CFL brought educational programs and social programs addressing family issues such as violence, poverty, and nutrition, under the control of one state agency.
The State Board of Education continued to function as a separate agency until December 31, 1999, when the CFL Commissioner assumed control of most of the board's functions and responsibilities [Laws 1999 c241 art9 s52].
On May 28, 2003, the agency's name was returned to the Department of Education [Laws 2003 c130]. Its mission is to improve educational achievement by establishing clear standards, measuring performance, assisting educators, and increasing opportunities for lifelong learning.
Most of the information in the above paragraphs is from the MN Historical Society, Agency history record for this group