Mr. Dahle Goes to St. Paul


Archive for the ‘Education’

Alternative Teacher Licensure

March 18, 2010 By: Kevin Dahle Category: Education No Comments →

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.

No, Thank You.

March 07, 2010 By: Kevin Dahle Category: Economy, Education, Health Care No Comments →

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.

Listening in Montgomery

January 13, 2010 By: Kevin Dahle Category: Economy, Education, Rice County No Comments →

This past Monday I had the opportunity to sit in on a joint session of the Montgomery city council and school board. Montgomery successfully passed a school bond referendum this past December. There’s no question the Montgomery Lonsdale school district was in need of a new facility and it was clear the Superintendent, Board, and Council members were excited about the city building a new high school. As we talked about the state budget crisis and the $1.2 billion shortfall facing the upcoming legislative session, one message was quite clear. Montgomery, both school and city, is not in a financial position to make significant budget cuts. Since 2003, Minnesota state investment in schools has dropped an inflation-adjusted 13 percent and schools like Montgomery Lonsdale has had difficulty making ends meet.
The city faces similar financial strain. In 2009, Montgomery lost $71,353 in Local Government Aid (LGA) though unallotment. The 2010 cuts will total $164,408. Needed improvements for streets and infrastructure may have to wait. The weak economy has dramatically softened the real estate market and as local assessments continue to catch up to the effects of the economy, property values will continue to adjust. Last year, residential homestead property values overall fell in cities. On top of that, commercial and industrial property values are on the decline. As a result, cities could see more of the burden of their property tax levy shifting to homeowners in the foreseeable future.
How much more can we cut LGA to cities like Montgomery? What kind of community do we want to live in? How can we ensure our students are getting the best education if we continue to slash budgets while schools are barely holding on with a funding stream that relies on operating referendums? While schools can be placed on a failing list for not making Average Yearly Progress (AYP), perhaps we should place an entire state on the failing list for not properly investing in our students, our schools, and our communities. When a school is not making AYP, everyone rallies to address the problem. When a community sees the need for a new school, local citizens step up and deliver. We need that same effort, in bipartisan fashion, at the State Capitol come February.

Education Forum

January 07, 2010 By: Kevin Dahle Category: Economy, Education No Comments →

The following report was written by Rob Hardy, school board chair for Cannon River STEM School, for

About 75 people gathered in the big room at ARTech charter school on Tuesday, January 5, for an evening of conversation with State Senator Kevin Dahle and State Representative David Bly. The main topic of the evening was education funding, and the impact on Minnesota public schools, and charter schools in particular, of the state budget crisis and the 27.5% holdback of state general education funds.

What is the 27% holdback? By statute, 10% of state per pupil education funding is held back from public schools in the state of Minnesota until after final enrollment figures are available for the school year. The money is generally paid to the schools in the first half of the following school year. This year, in an effort to address the state budget shortfall without raising taxes, Gov. Pawlenty increased the holdback to 27%. This means that 27% of the amount that schools have budgeted, and to which they are entitled according to the per pupil funding formula, is held back—payment to the schools is deferred.

This has put charter schools into a bind. Because 27% of their general education funding is being held back, schools are finding it necessary to secure loans in order to meet their expenses—to pay teachers. The interest payments then have to be included the school’s general education budget. In effect, funds that should have gone into the classroom are going into interest payments to banks—if, that is, the schools can secure loans at a time when banks are tightening credit.

Both legislators expressed their strong support for charter schools. The hard reality is that the state budget is facing a projected $5 billion shortfall in the next biennium. To this point, the stategy of Gov. Pawlenty has been to make cuts and accounting shifts, rather than to raise additional revenue.

See the entire story at

Bowling Alone

December 06, 2009 By: Kevin Dahle Category: Economy, Education No Comments →

A few weeks ago, I had my AP Students read an essay entitled “Bowling Alone,” by Robert Putnam. The premise of the essay is the idea that America is losing its social capital and that it has been on the decline for several years. Social capital refers to connections among individuals. It is the foundation for social communities.

Left intact, social capital has a stream of benefits, including safety and security, friendship and community, and a sense of civic identity. Putnam uses the analogy that even though more and more people are heading to the bowling alley these days, there is a decline in bowling leagues.

Politically speaking…voting, political knowledge, and grassroots political activism are all down. Americans sign 30 per cent fewer petitions and are 40 per cent less likely to join a consumer boycott, as compared to just a decade or two ago. Other social get-togethers have experienced a decline over the last 25 years. Attendance at club meetings have dropped 58 percent, family dinners are down 43 percent, and having friends over is down 35 percent since 1985 (Putnam 2000).
How far are we willing to go it alone? Have we lost our civic virtue? Have we lost our sense of community? As the state budget faces even more cuts, are cities and communities willing to let our hospitals and nursing homes close? Will we continue to invest in our schools, our main street, and our local food shelf? Do we care about our neighbors as fellow citizens? Is the mentality, “as long as I have mine” (insert job or health insurance here) the social norm?

Putnam states “a society of many virtuous but isolated individuals is not necessarily rich in social capital.” As a matter of fact, there is a range of evidence that communities with a good ’stock’ of such ’social capital’ are more likely to benefit from lower crime figures, better health, higher educational achievement, and better economic growth.

Yes, we can blame television, suburban sprawl, and the time constraints brought on with a two career family. However, generational change came out as a very significant factor. A “long civic generation,” born in the first third of the twentieth century, is passing from the American scene. Their children and grandchildren (baby boomers and Generation X-ers) are much less engaged in most forms of community life. For example, the growth in volunteering over the last ten years is due almost entirely to increased volunteering by retirees from the long civic generation.

As the New Year approaches, let’s consider what’s important to Minnesota: a state that embraces the importance of “the common good” and the virtues of civic responsibility and participation. This holiday season let’s not lose sight of our need to invest in social capital. Make time for the family meal, invite the neighbors over for some eggnog, attend a Holiday Concert, or make time to volunteer. And perhaps you can even find time to go bowling. Better yet, start a league.

Educating Every Child

October 24, 2009 By: Kevin Dahle Category: Education, Kevin Dahle MN Senate District 25 No Comments →

ARc imageMy brother Andy was born in 1977. In many ways, it was a sad day in our household. When he died nearly 20 years later, an entire community mourned.
Andy was born with Down’s syndrome. My mother had no early prognosis. My grandmother, visibly distraught, broke the news to me and my younger brother and sister. We had no idea what Down’s meant, but we knew that Andy would have physical and mental limitations for the rest of his life. Words like retarded or even mongoloid were still part of the vernacular at that time. I remember my sister, crying, and apologizing to my mother for the sign that hung in her teenage bedroom proclaiming “Mental Ward.” We just didn’t know.
Within weeks, someone from the school system visited our home and several times a week he would work with Andy. “John” worked with my tiny brother to assist with therapy and family support. As I reminisce, I realize how important this early intervention was to Andy’s continued success in addressing his physical as well as his developmental disabilities. His visits were important to us as a family. Progress was slow, but our family and our support services were diligent and patient.
Eventually, Andy attended school. He was given every opportunity to experience success both academically and socially. I never questioned his joy for life and the quality of his life in and out of school. His world was rich with friendships: from the postal carrier, the police chief, the local merchants, the Principal, teachers, and his basketball teammates. He liked to hang out at the YMCA. He tended to chores at home and found time for video games. He even held a job at the local recycling center. His proudest moment was a trip to prom in my step dad’s convertible.
This morning I was part of a legislative panel at the Arc of Minnesota State Convention. Parents and advocates of students with disabilities still struggle with issues of inclusion, a quality education, and quality of life issues. Thirty two years ago, my experiences gave me hope that we were on the right path: making sure that our students with disabilities be educated to the maximum extent possible. Challenges still remain due to underfunding, limited educational opportunities, shortages of sufficiently trained teachers and support personnel, lack of planning time, unreasonable testing requirements, and burdensome paperwork. We know what works. We have been working at it for awhile. We should continue moving forward, not backward.
Andy died in the summer of 1996 during elective heart surgery to replace a valve. There was standing room only at his funeral. We lost a family member, a student, a community member, and a young citizen. It was indeed a sad day. Our lives are a little richer for having been a part of his life.

Education Challenges Ahead

October 16, 2009 By: Kevin Dahle Category: Education No Comments →

one roomNot surprisingly, several of our Minnesota schools are struggling with the issue of declining enrollment. One of the largest school districts in the state, the Anoka-Hennepin district, has lost 2000 students in the past five years and after a 5-1 vote by the school board Monday night; the district will be closing eight schools. While school finance can be a complicated subject, one aspect of it can be summarized rather simply – fewer students mean fewer dollars in the operating budgets of school districts. While the larger school districts make the choice to close schools or cut staff, smaller districts wrestle with smaller class sizes to the point that efficiency is lost and grade sharing and reorganization with other school districts become critical to long term survival. None of these changes is easy work.
While declining enrollment and other factors are shrinking school district’s budgets, the expectation for educating today’s students have never been higher. The Federal No Child Left Behind Act requires that school districts demonstrate that all students meet “proficiency levels” in their learning or the district or building may face penalties. The school teachers and administrators that I work with are up to the challenge, in fact their passion for what is best for our students remain strong.
Still, educating our students given the global demands of our times has become increasingly complex. To do it well with the financial limitations of today, our local schools may not look like they did when most of us were students in the K-12 system. This is true of how we deliver education and how our schools are funded. Reliance on referenda and fundraising is not the right approach to ensuring our schools get the resources they need.
It is important that we continue to educate ourselves and remain open to change. Clinging too tightly to the past rather than keeping our focus on what’s ultimately best for kids will only delay the process of finding solutions. The same is true for bickering and placing blame. Parent and community involvement and support will be essential. Serve on parent advisory committees. Get involved in your child’s activities. Sit down with school teachers, administrators, and board members and learn about the challenges our schools are facing. The challenges are great, but not insurmountable. Let’s work together to ensure that our future in Minnesota is secure.

Long Term Budget still needs Fix

October 03, 2009 By: Kevin Dahle Category: Economy, Education, Health Care No Comments →

I was reading a letter to the editor a few weeks ago from a reader who was surprised to see the world had not ended as a result of Governor Tim Pawlenty’s unallotment solution to fix the budget deficit for the FY 2010-11 biennium. The writer cited a lack of crying and gnashing of teeth as proof that the Governor’s unprecedented actions were justified in these tough economic times. The truth is, many schools have had some difficulty securing short term loans to make ends meet due to delayed payments and many of the unallotment plans, such as general assistance medical care and higher education, will not go into effect until 2010. In addition, the unallotment solution did nothing to resolve the more looming problems of the future. The decision to rely heavily on one-time measures to fix the current deficit will have long term implications as Minnesota is facing persistent budget deficits.
According to the Minnesota Budget Project (July 2009) the deficit could increase substantially, depending on a number of factors:
• If delayed payments to school districts are repaid (and they should be), the deficit would increase by up to $1.8 billion.
• If General Assistance Medical Care is restored, a program for very low-income adults without children, the deficit would increase by up to $890 million.
• If the impact of inflation is taken into account, the deficit would increase by $1.4 billion.
• If the economy does not improve as was forecasted this past February, the deficit would increase by an unknown amount.
When the state’s next economic forecast is released – likely in early December, Minnesota could face another huge budget deficit for 2012-13 and may see additional deficit open up for the current biennium. Without additional federal stimulus funds, which lessened the impact of the current deficit, we face fewer resources to solve future deficits. We as lawmakers must solve the budget crisis with an eye to the future considering all budget-balancing solutions.

The Next Governor

September 25, 2009 By: Kevin Dahle Category: Economy, Education, Energy, Health Care No Comments →

loonEven though the election is over a year away, the race for Governor is in full swing. I have had several calls from candidates and have enjoyed lunch or a cup of coffee with a numerous others, looking for support. Politicians from both parties have declared their candidacy, started exploratory campaigns, or are still considering a run for the right to succeed Tim Pawlenty as Minnesota’s 40th Governor.

How do you decide at this point? With 15- 20 candidates in the ring you wonder how one candidate can get enough momentum to carry them to the endorsing conventions next spring followed by a real possibility of a primary election. No doubt, these candidates are working hard. I see them at parades and fundraisers in towns like Montgomery and Gaylord, all trying to meet the party faithful and raise the dollars necessary for a statewide campaign.

There are some excellent candidates for Governor. You have your choice of women and men, out state or metro, with experiences ranging from former U.S Senators, the Speaker of the House, former and current legislators, prosecutors, and big city mayors. Some have been running for years while others wait to announce.

What does Minnesota hope to find in its next Governor? We need a governor who puts Minnesota first, someone willing to work with the House and Senate regardless of party labels. He or she must consider all options for resolving a budget deficit seeking long term solutions. Those solutions should involve job creation, investment in our infrastructure –our roads, bridges, and improved transit serving both metro and out state Minnesota. Education must be a top priority for the next Governor. An innovative, resourceful, and educated workforce becomes a reality by investing in our early childhood programs, K-12, and our colleges and Universities. The next Governor should welcome health care reform and show the nation that Minnesota can be a leader, rather than a follower; in making sure all Minnesotans have access to quality care. The next governor must pay attention to our energy and environmental needs now and in the future, crafting policy that reflects the needs of our rural and urban landscape. A great communicator with real leadership and passion would be frosting on the cake.

That’s a tall order. But with this many candidates, we should be able to weed out the very best and brightest of all of them. I’ll be listening. I will be asking questions. Stay tuned. A candidate for Governor will be coming soon to an event near you.

AYP: Who’s to Blame?

August 19, 2009 By: Kevin Dahle Category: Education No Comments →

So who is to blame for a school not making “Average Yearly Progress?” Everyone seems to have an opinion. Earl Weinmann, a friend and colleague of mine in the Northfield school system for the last 17 years, offers the following in response to that very question.

The state of Minnesota just released the standardized test scores mandated by the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) and everyone’s angry once again. Fingers are being pointed and blame is being deflected. With all of the commotion, it’s hard to discern the political motivations from the financial to the educational. What we are left is a lot of loud noise and the echoes of anger. In the midst of all this blaming and carping about whose fault it is, I would like to calmly offer a few observations.

There are good teachers and bad teachers. There are good parents and bad parents. There are students who do well and students who do poorly. These statements were as true in the “good old days” when we sent a man to the moon as they are today when we debate whether we should go to Mars. The truth is that we have no potion to reverse this inevitability. First a full disclosure: I am a teacher of 25 years of experience who doesn’t “whine” about money. I believe that before we ask taxpayers for more money we have to allocate it better within school districts. I see money mandated or routed for programs, theories, and administrative needs that have little impact on the child. Conversely, I have a $250.00 annual classroom budget and spend over $1000.00 out of my own pocket each year for my classroom – and although, I wish it were different, I don’t mind. I hate what NCLB has done to my image and the reputation of my school, but understand the public clamoring for results. Although I am considered an excellent teacher, I do not want merit pay for the simple reason that “with the king’s purse, comes the king.” In other words, I fear it will generate even more mandates and require even more time that take away from what I believe is necessary for me to perform at a current high level. In short, I understand both sides, but enjoy my career too much to let it infect what I do in the classroom.

What I don’t understand is the vitriol that comes with it. My experience has found that, contrary to many opinions stated here, it is not the pay that drives teachers out of the profession but the beating one endures each day from so many fronts. Everybody seems so angry. Parents are angry. Legislators are angry. Worst of all, the students come to class angry because they model those they admire. I love the fact that the public is passionate about improving education – and there is room for improvement - but it can be done without laying to waste to a dignified profession. In the 1990’s Minnesota invested $152 million for the now defunct Profile of Learning program. Currently, we are spending billions each year to implement the much-maligned NCLB mandates. I will probably make someone angry for saying this, but I do believe that there is a simple solution that has never been tried and, best of all, would not cost a dollar. Teachers in your district have a great deal of insight about how their individual school (and possibly schools in general) can and should improve. They witness and confront a host of problems each year that are not of their own creation but of a moving-target that has been fueled by a dizzying bureaucracy. These teachers, the CEO’s of the classroom, know firsthand what can and cannot work…if only those in power would ask…if only teachers were given the means to help bring about change…if only these teachers were given the respect to share what they have learned about our educational system with all its successes and flaws. Unlike other proposals, I cannot guarantee success. One thing is for certain: whatever the teachers decide, it will require cooperation between parents, teachers, and students. And maybe, just maybe, we’ll be working so hard to get it right, that no one will have time to blame one another. No one will have energy left over to get so angry.

Earl Weinmann teaches Social Studies in the Northfield Middle School. He is a former Northfield Teacher of the Year and was a top 10 finalist for Minnesota Teacher of the Year.