Representative David Bly and I will be holding a town meeting this Monday, March 29 from 7:00-8:00pm at the Northfield Public Library. With the legislative session nearing the halfway point, we welcome the opportunity to hear your concerns and thoughts about the issues facing Minnesotans. If you are unable to attend, as always, please contact me to express your concerns about the economy, jobs, education, the environment, energy, or health care. I am always willing to listen. We’re in this together, and I’ll do my best for you.
This past Saturday, I received the endorsement of the DFL party at the Senate District 25 endorsing convention in Montgomery. Representative David Bly received the endorsement for House District 25B and the Mick McGuire, Mayor of Montgomery, received the House District 25A endorsement. There were no challengers to the three endorsed candidates. An excerpt from my acceptance speech:
While I reaffirm my commitment to the party, I also want to pledge to continue to do my best to represent all Minnesotans… Republicans and Democrats, Independents, and others. When we stop working together, our legislature becomes a haven for special interests and personal agendas.
I believe together we can meet the challenges and maximize the opportunities that lay before us. What will break the people of District 25 is not adversity – we’ve been here before. What will break our spirit is thinking that tomorrow is going to be just like yesterday. If we think that government cannot change that which is broken, we lose interest, we lose faith, we lose the people…but worst of all, we lose the future.
This past Tuesday, the Education committee in the Minnesota Senate passed an alternative Teacher licensure bill. I voted against that bill.
At a time when discussions have focused on increased rigor, teacher quality, and closing the achievement gap, fast tracking teacher licensure doesn’t see make sense. Senate File 2757 would allow person with a BA who has passed reading, writing, and math exams and a 5 week preparation course to be in charge of a classroom.
How can an individual, who has not adequately demonstrated proven success in an actual classroom setting experience, do a better job in closing the achievement gap? Hundreds of laid off teachers and recent college graduates from 4 year teacher preparation programs are already looking for work. There are sufficient high quality experienced teachers for most subjects.
The current system allows for flexibility. There are certain organizations such as “Teach for America” that already have programs in place in Minneapolis, St. Paul, and Brooklyn Center having been granted waivers by the Board of Teaching. That program could continue.
Minnesota has long been a leader in quality education. We consistently lead the nation in ACT scores and high school graduation rates. Some argue that an alternative teacher licensure option in Minnesota will increase our chance for success in the Federal “Race to the Top” initiative. Federal oversight, (think No Child Left Behind) should not be the carrot for teacher quality in this state. Let’s do all we can to ensure that our current 70,000 educators are the best they can be.
While the State faces the daunting task of cutting over $900 million from the budget this year and who knows how many billions next year, it would seem easy to look over the State’s allocations and start whacking away. Believe me, it’s not that easy.
Let’s look at one particular item, buried deep in the Judiciary budget: the Sentence to Serve Program, just one of the items on the Governor’s chopping block. This program takes prisoners out of the local jails and allows them to “work off” part of their jail time, as well as other direct costs. The city of LeCenter has used the Sentence to Serve program several times. The prisoners there helped paint the city owned swimming pool, cleaned up debris along Highway 99, helped with brush chipping, worked at the city/county recycling center, painted city buildings, and picked up trash at the local parks. These probationers work hard. They finish their work with a real sense of accomplishment. Today a city council woman from Waterville shared a story with me of a recently released prisoner who asked her for directions to the local park he had worked on a few years ago. He was proud of the work he had done and was eager to revisit the fruits of his labor.
These tangible benefits are totally lost in the monetary considerations of a budget crisis. It is so important that we as a State take a holistic and systematic view of the costs and benefits of any program. There is so much at stake.
I recently held a town meeting in a small town on the Western side of my Senate district. As the town meeting turned its focus to the budget crisis, one gentleman stood up claiming to have all of the answers regarding Minnesota’s budget woes. He said he had a proposal for “solving the state’s budget deficit without raising taxes.” I said I was interested in his “list” and he said he would be sure to send it to me. Sure enough, a few days ago I received a document outlining what some of those cuts might look like. Here is a small sampling of some of what Minnesota could expect (and I quote):
• Eliminate intrusive and ineffective home visiting and mental health screening programs
• Eliminate Early Childhood Professional Development
• Eliminate Kindergarten Readiness Assessment and Intervention Programs
• Eliminate Preschool screening and ECFE (Early Childhood Family Education)
• Eliminate Early Childhood Literacy
• Eliminate After School Community Learning Grants
• Repeal the public school staff development mandate
• Reduce the number of MNSCU campuses
• Require the DNR to fully self-fund via fees
• Eliminate Local Government Aid
• Reduce Court appropriations and increase attorney’s annual license
• Reduce Human Rights Department funding
• Provide Health Insurance subsidies, not Health care services and payments
No thank you. If this list is a solution, count me out. The cuts to early childhood education alone would set this state back 30 years creating a host of problems for years to come. We need to reaffirm the connection between intelligent investments and the public benefits we receive in return. We are a state of community minded people who care about our children, our neighbors, the elderly, and the poor. We value these public assets and most of us are more than willing to pay for them.
The document to which I refer comes from the Minnesota Budget Solutions Coalition which includes organizations such as the Minnesota Majority, Taxpayers League of Minnesota, Minnesota Family Council, and NFIB Minnesota Chapter… to name a few.