Senate Education Committee announces top priorities for 2016 session

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ST. PAUL, Minn. – Ending the state’s teacher shortage crisis, addressing Minnesota’s 46th student to counselor ratio ranking and expanding pre-k for Minnesota’s 4-year-olds are among the Senate Education Committee’s top priorities for the 2016 legislative session. Senate Education Chair Sen. Chuck Wiger (DFL-Maplewood) was joined by Sen. Kevin Dahle (DFL-Northfield), Sen. Vicki Jensen (DFL-Owatonna), Sen. Susan Kent (DFL-Woodbury) and Sen. Katie Sieben (DFL-Cottage Grove) today to discuss their committee priorities in an Expanding Education Opportunities press conference.

“This session we are prioritizing getting more high quality teachers into the classroom. However, not only do we want to get them to go into the teaching profession, we want to offer our ongoing support by investing in teacher training and development. Our state’s poor student-to-counselor ratio is also a priority this session; we know that when student’s get the supports they need – they’ll do better in the classroom. Finally, expanding early childhood education is another focus this year. We are clear on the need for pre-k; how much we can expand this critical program this year will depend on how much money we have to invest,” said Wiger.

Sen. Dahle, an experienced classroom teacher, is authoring a package of bills that help address teacher shortage by offering loan forgiveness, grants to help pay for student teaching and incentives for teacher in high demand areas.

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“Last year, 56 percent of school districts said they would find hiring special ed teachers ‘very difficult.’ Schools across the state are struggling to find qualified applicants for a variety of positions – from math, science and special ed to agriculture and career and tech ed. I am proud of the bill we’ve put together which addresses this statewide problem by attacking it on several fronts. By combining new grant money and loan forgiveness with greater investment in programs we know work already – I am confident we can ease the burdens on school districts,” said Sen. Dahle.

Sen. Dahle is also authoring a bill to invest in teacher training and development which would help districts pay for training sessions for their teachers. Sen. Vicki Jensen is authoring a bill to add money to the agriculture education grant program.

“Agriculture is the state’s second largest employer and vital to Minnesota’s economy. It creates high paying jobs that include not only the traditional roles on the farm, but also opportunities in biochemistry, communications and engineering fields. Extending high school agriculture programming into the summer, provides the ultimate STEM experience in a hands on setting, preparing students for a career in agriculture,” said Sen. Jensen.

Sen. Kent has worked tirelessly to get more student counselors into Minnesota schools. This year she’s back with a $20 million grant proposal.

“Whether you come from a family with a strong support system, or no support system at all – every school student can benefit in some way from a school counselor or support staff. School nurses, psychologists, social workers, chemical dependency counselors and others all work to help our students stay healthy and succeed in the classroom and beyond. I am hopeful this is the year we can get something done to improve our state’s abysmal student to counselor ratio,” said Sen. Kent.

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Senator Katie Sieben is proud to chief author a bill to bring pre-K to more of Minnesota’s four-year-old children. The mother of three says that she’s seen the benefits of high quality preschool in the school districts across her district.

“All children, regardless of income, should be able to attend a high quality preschool program. We don’t say that children can only attend third or fifth grade if they can afford to pay for it, and families shouldn’t have to make that difficult decision for their four-year-olds. School-based preschool programs can provide wraparound services, like special education, vision screening and busing that makes public preschool programs attractive to families. Minnesota needs to move in this direction, and I’m proud to support such efforts,” said Sen. Sieben.

Senator Kevin Dahle
Kevin Dahle represents District 20, which includes portions of Le Sueur, Rice, and Scott counties in the south central part of the state.

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Senator Vicki Jensen
Vicki Jensen represents District 24 in southeastern Minnesota. She is the vice chair of the Commerce Committee.

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Senator Susan Kent
Susan Kent represents District 53 in the eastern Twin Cities metropolitan area.

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Senator Katie Sieben
Assistant Majority Leader Senate District 54
Katie Sieben is the Assistant Majority Leader and represents District 54, which includes portions of Dakota and Washington counties. She is the chair of the Subcommittee on Elections and the vice chair of the Rules and Administration Committee.

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Senator Chuck Wiger
Chuck Wiger represents District 43, which includes portions of Ramsey and Washington counties in the northeastern Twin Cities metropolitan area.

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