Senator Steve Cwodzinski: A sad day for public education

One of the saddest days of my teaching career was having to walk through the doors of Eden Prairie High School the day after the community defeated a referendum. The defeat told me that as a teacher, I wasn’t valued. That feeling permeated the classrooms of the school that week.

And recently, that feeling has come back after seeing the lack of investments in the Senate education bill. While there were a lot of good items in the bill, such as language on suicide prevention and streamlining teacher licensure, I still chose to vote no.

Minnesota has historically valued public education – and the legislature has put its money where its mouth is my making important investments that have helped our state achieve great things. Even our state constitution explicitly states that it is the duty of the legislature to establish a general and uniform system of public education. AND – that the stability of our government relies upon the intelligence of the people of Minnesota.

I argued on the senate floor that investing a mere $300 million into education is not doing right by the young people of Minnesota. It’s less than half of Governor Dayton’s $709 million education proposal, and is not even enough to fund many of the Senate Republicans’ top priorities. The number one reason I voted no was because the budget only included a 1.5 percent increase to the funding formula – less than the 2 percent they initially championed earlier this session. This investment eats up over ninety percent of the $300 million bill, which received a lower target than it should have. Without the full 2 percent increase, many great teachers across the state will be seeing pink slips next spring.

The bill is also eerily quiet on any investments to pre-k – an issue that the Governor has loudly championed – and something that Minnesota families are clamoring for. No additional investments into voluntary pre-k means the status quo remains – a few lucky school districts will continue to get the sparse amounts allocated in previous years, but many districts that want to offer early childhood education won’t be able to. It means many Minnesota families with four-year-olds won’t be able to afford to send their children to preschool, leaving those kids less prepared to start kindergarten.

At a time when our state has a $1.65 billion surplus, the Senate majority is still choosing to shortchange our schools. These choices are heartbreaking, and remind me once again of that feeling I had as a teacher, a feeling of not being valued. By choosing not to give public schools the money they need to educate Minnesota’ future workforce, they are telling teachers and students, they aren’t valued.

In addition to these austere investments –the Senate Education bill includes several controversial policy provisions. I am concerned about the state giving public schools the option to allow e-learning (a video watched at home) to make up for snow days. Allowing e-learning to replace classroom instruction is a slippery slope. Safeguarding the quality of our teacher-student relationships is incredibly important.

I’m also concerned about the undue burden this bill is placing on teachers across the state. There is a provision that adds a whole bunch of new training requirements involving third grade reading standards. While we all agree that this benchmark is critically important – I am frustrated with the way this bill goes about trying to implement change.

The Senate’s education budget is woefully inadequate. Not only will this bill undoubtedly create cuts and painful decisions for school boards across the state, it does nothing to expand Governor Dayton’s voluntary pre-k program. It means another year of young Minnesotans not having the access they deserve to high quality preschool. All of this – at a time when our state has the financial capacity to make innovative and smart investments in education. It’s another sad day for teachers, students, and for public education.

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Steve Cwodzinski represents District 48 in the southwest Twin Cities metro.

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