Monthly Archives

May 2015

End of Session

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With the end of this year’s legislative session fast approaching, the final touches on our state’s two-year budget are swiftly coming to a conclusion. While the Governor, Senate, and House leaders have been negotiating a high-level agreement, other elected officials (including myself) have been working harder than ever to promote the policies we have championed throughout the five month session.

It is no secret that my major legislative focus has been on education. As I’ve written before, preparing the youngest Minnesotans for a successful life after high school is one of the most important things we can do as a state. By the time of this printing, I expect the House and the Senate to be deep in the final stages of assembling our final education omnibus bills. The Senate has come to the table with a set of proposals that take steps to strengthen Minnesota’s students and economy for decades.

Of course, any final deal will incorporate House proposals put forward by the Republican and Democratic Representatives, as well as proposals from Senators of both parties. Many of the news stories reporting on the end of session focus on points of strong disagreement, but despite inevitable conflict on some issues, the two parties agree on much of what must be done for Minnesota schools. Expanding the state’s successful concurrent enrollment program for high school students to earn college credits is just one example. Plans to reduce the number of tests we give to students and to further strengthen teacher development and evaluation also find wide bipartisan support, and I expect these kinds of initiatives to be signed into law.

In other cases, the difference between the House and Senate come down to a matter of scale. While everyone at the table wants to increase the funding formula for schools, how much we allocate to that formula has been a long-standing discussion. Everything from a .5% increase to a 1% boost has been officially proposed, with some Senators joining me to push for a 2% or 3% increase that would keep our schools from losing staff and programs to inflation. Similarly, the facilities funding bill I have brought forward might receive a minimal amount of funding, or could be scaled-up to give our school districts significant resources to fix and modernize our aging infrastructure.

As a member of the conference committee tasked with putting together the education finance and policy bills, I will work hard to ensure that our students and our schools get the support they need and deserve. While it is too early to say for certain what will happen, I am confident that Minnesota’s elected officials will settle on a resolution that will be good news for students, families, and schools across our state.


As the session ends, I will be spending more of my time in the district again to share what the Legislature has accomplished this year and to hear your feedback. If you have questions about anything the Senate has done or thoughts on how we can keep moving Minnesota forward, please contact me. I can only be an effective representative for you if I hear your thoughts and concerns, and I promise to remain accessible in the legislative “off-season.” Thank you for following the political ups and downs of the last several months. It has been an honor to serve you in the Minnesota Senate.

Education Omnibus Bill

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Education at Forefront of Legislative Session

 As a long-time teacher and as a parent, education is often at the forefront of my mind. As a legislator, my energies can become scattered between the Avian Flu outbreak, funding for nursing homes, and the hundreds of bills that come across my desk, but the legislature’s work on education is always at the core of why and how I serve.

This Wednesday, the legislature took up two important bills that will shape how our schools are financed and managed. The Education Policy and Finance Omnibus bills both passed the Senate after healthy discussion, and I am confident that both bills make important steps toward making our schools the strongest in the nation.

As I have mentioned in the past, my major initiative to better finance maintenance needs for our crumbling school buildings in Minnesota is included in this bill. Another appropriation will address the state’s shamefully low number of counselors and support staff in Minnesota schools, and funding for career and technical education will help to bridge the gap between high school and the workforce.

One of the big themes this session is the importance of early childhood education, and I’m pleased to report that the Senate has earmarked $65 million to significantly expand our state’s school readiness model. This will allow Minnesota to increase its support of publicly funded pre-school programs, allowing parents more flexibility while giving our youngest learners a stronger start. Programs like these are proven to reduce our achievement gap and help at-risk Minnesotans prepare for Kindergarten.

There is still more we must do.  We must address the inadequate level of funding currently earmarked for the general fund formula. I have held discussions with leadership and my committee members to share concerns that we are not doing enough for students. A 1% increase over each of the next two years doesn’t even match inflation, so my colleagues and I will continue to work with Governor Dayton and others to ensure our schools don’t have to cut staff and programs while the state enjoys a budget surplus. The final budget number has yet to be determined, but unfortunately the House proposal contains an even lower funding level than the already-modest Senate version. House provisions that include tax cuts for the wealthy and one-time funding for transportation threatens to eat away at available general fund dollars. We will have to fight hard to ensure our schools remain strong.

Despite some inevitable disagreement, there was strong bipartisan agreement among Senators on many provisions. The Education Omnibus Policy bill passed with an overwhelming 53-13 vote, and will bring reforms to teacher licensure, raise student accountability, and reduce the number of tests that burden students and get in the way of actual teaching time.

I will be appointed to the Education Conference committee to reconcile differences between the House and Senate bills. It is my goal to work with them and build on the strong bills passed by the Senate this week.  Together we must continue to make good progress toward our shared goal of strong schools and successful students.