Sen. Wiger: Special Session Leads to Historic Investment in Education
“Individual commitment to a group effort–that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work.” — Vince Lombardi
House and Senate leaders have finally arrived at an agreement with Governor Dayton on E-12 funding. While the agreement was clearly a compromise, I’m viewing the $525 million E-12 bill as an accomplishment, and a win for Minnesota public schools. One of this session’s biggest goals was to get more Minnesota youngsters ready for kindergarten. We achieved that in a big way this year with $30.75 million in new money for School Readiness – a proven program that helps close the achievement gap and prepare youngsters for academic success. Studies clearly show that when students are ready for kindergarten, they are more likely to graduate. It’s an investment that more than pays back in dividends to the entire community. We also invested $48.25 million more for early learning scholarships and $10 million to eliminate the Head Start waiting list. Now that’s what I call visionary and historic.
One of the largest investments that came out of the negotiated deal was more money on the per pupil formula – a 2 percent increase for both FY16 and FY17. This increase means many schools who were on the brink of cuts, will no longer have to send out layoff notices, and won’t be forced to have larger classroom sizes just to stretch their dollars.
For schools in our area, from White Bear Lake, Mahtomedi, Maplewood, North St. Paul, Oakdale and Roseville – it means your kids will be able to attend a properly funded school, where teacher to student ratios are at a good level, and where textbooks, science lab materials and art supplies are available and ready for students to use and learn from. As legislators return to their communities, sometimes grumbling, it’s important to look at the bigger picture and remember why we care so much in the first place. I’m proud to tell my constituents that I fought for kids and won.
The new investments also include $4.2 million for English Language Learners, as the number of students needing these services continues to increase each year — we are staying current with the educational needs of our citizens. The bill also included an important $3.5 million for the Minnesota Reading Corps, a program that helps struggling readers learn to read – and achieve that important benchmark of reading by third grade.
Our E-12 bill also includes $9.5 million for Indian Education Formula Aid, which means needed dollars will be heading to schools across the state that serve our American Indian students. Not only was this money greatly needed, it’s an equity issue that we have finally begun addressing after years of neglect.
The E-12 Bill also appropriated $4 million to the concurrent enrollment program, which allows high school students to take college-level courses while still at their high school. North High School and Tartan High School in our community are leaders in the state when it comes to offering its students concurrent enrollment options. This year’s investment will allow other schools to expand their offerings to thousands more students.
While we accomplished much this year – in fact our $525 million bill is the third largest state investment in education ever – we still have unfinished business. Trying to fix our state’s low ranking for its student to counselor ratio was something we worked hard on this year, but this investment failed to make it into the final bill. Likewise, we heard a lot this year about the resurgence of career and technical education and its importance in our schools statewide. We will address both of these issues next session.
The Higher Education Bill passed this session also included investments that will greatly help Century College and the thousands of students that attend classes there. The bill made significant investments in MnSCU to help freeze tuition rates at two-year colleges for the upcoming academic year. In addition to the tuition freezes, the bill appropriates $100 million to additional tuition relief for more than 410,000 students attending a MnSCU campus. Century students will also benefit from the additional $5 million that was put into scholarships for students entering technical fields.
The wins weren’t just in the education area either – our northeast corner of the metro received funding in several areas. The City of Maplewood received $150,000 from the Legacy Bill to build a formal Tuj Lub court. Tuj Lub is a traditional Hmong sport that involves spinning tops and teams of six players. The court is planned to be built within Keller Regional Park in Maplewood. The Legacy Bill also includes a substantial Clean Water Fund which appropriated $150,000 to conduct several studies of the White Bear Lake area.
As always, please contact me with questions or suggestions about any issue. Please visit my Senate website at senate.mn/senatorwiger. I also encourage you to visit me at the Capitol, or let me know if you’d like me to stop by your home. Also, please tune in to my local cable TV show, “Your Capitol: What’s Up?” which appears on public access channels 15 and 16.