Senator Chuck Wiger: Community Education: learning opportunities for all
“Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at 20 or 80. Anyone who keeps learning stays young. The greatest thing in life is to keep your mind young,” — Henry Ford
We are never too young or too old to learn. Inspired by that, Community Education provides great opportunities for learners of all ages. Whether it be early education activities for toddlers, parents and grandparents, or lessons ranging from music to financial planning and much more, many choices abound.
I first learned about community education as a student at Hamline University. In 1972 (time sure flies!) I served as an intern for the late Sen. Jerry Hughes, Maplewood, chair of the Senate Education Committee. He asked me to do some research on a Michigan program that served learners and opened schools for people of all ages. My research was the basis of legislation that Sen. Hughes sponsored to eventually establish the state’s Community Education program for local school districts. Soon thereafter, many school districts responded and applied to get planning assistance. The first state director of the program was a dedicated educator from North St. Paul, Larry Erie, who did an outstanding job in launching community education opportunities.
Fast forward to the current situation, and you will find: over 900,000 adults, 1.7 million youth and 285,000 pre-kindergarten children in Minnesota taking advantage of Community Education programs. Many classes are free and others charge nominal fees or fees based on a sliding scale according to what you can afford.
Community Ed Programs
Programs that are directed or coordinated by Community Education include:
- Early Childhood Family Education
- School Readiness/pre-kindergarten programs for 3-to-5-year-olds
- School-age care for children before and after school, on release days and throughout the summer
- Adults with disabilities
- Adult Basic Education
- Lifelong learning opportunities for all adults and seniors
- Enrichment programs for students
- Youth leadership and youth service
To offer Community Education, public school boards must establish a community education advisory council. With some exceptions, they must also employ a licensed Community Education director.
To provide accountability, each district must submit an annual report to the Minnesota Department of Education.
Adult Basic Education classes help community members learn English as a Second Language, pursue a GED, brush up on basic skills or pursue IT career training and certification. Adults can expand their skills and knowledge through engaging, affordable learning options in Adult Enrichment. Adults with disabilities experience inclusive opportunities to build and maintain friendships, learn, and serve in their community. Some Community Education programs facilitate community gardens, which supports local access to healthy food.
Older adults may participate in programs and services that help maintain independence. Opportunities to socialize and learn contribute to healthy aging and well-being. Some Community Education programs also facilitate meal deliveries, which help older adults live independently with nutritious meals and a daily connection.
One of the original reasons Community Education was created was to provide community access to school district facilities outside of school hours. Many youth and adult groups utilize school facilities during the evening and weekend hours.
School districts fund Community Education with a combination of state aid and local property tax levies. Total community education revenue includes a district’s general community education revenue, youth service program revenue and youth after-school enrichment revenue. These revenues are calculated based on a school district’s population and its property tax capacity.
In 1987, the Legislature approved a general levy and aid formula for Community Education that produced revenue of $5.95 per capita. That funding was reduced to $5.23 in 2003 due to a state budget cut. In 2005, the funding was partially restored to $5.42, where it has remained for the past 11 years.
Legislation has been introduced this session to increase the general Community Education levy to give school districts more ability to engage our communities and provide high-quality, affordable programming for all of our residents. I support that legislation.
People make it work
Volunteers enrich our communities by contributing many hours assisting in a variety of Community Education programs. Engagement opportunities include serving on advisory councils to offer input and connection to community groups.
We are so fortunate in Minnesota to have Community Education as part of our school systems, providing opportunities for residents of every age. Programs vary by community, because they are designed to be responsive to the unique needs of residents. As you can see, Community Education works to connect the entire community to lifelong learning and enrichment!
In White Bear Lake, the district Community Education program has found a very creative way to reach out to young parents. Every child born in St. John’s Hospital in Maplewood is given a one-piece T-shirt (a onesie) that features a cute polar bear, the White Bear mascot. From Day One, this connects parents to the school district.
Special thanks to all staff and volunteers who make our Community Education programs so successful. In the North St. Paul-Maplewood-Oakdale School District, Clyde Doepner is an example of an educator who has provided service above and beyond the call of duty. This month, Doepner received the Excellence in Community Education Leadership Award for his 47 years of service to the district’s Driver Education Program. He served as an instructor and later the supervisor for the program until his retirement last September.
You can find more information about the Community Education programs in the Northeast Metro by following these links:
North St. Paul-Maplewood-Oakdale: https://www.isd622.org/communityeducation
White Bear Lake: http://www.whitebear.k12.mn.us/CommunityServices/
As always, please contact me with questions or suggestions regarding any issue. I encourage you to visit me at the Minnesota Senate Building, Room 2219. And be sure to visit our newly-restored Capitol. It is spectacular! Let me know if you would like me to stop by your home or apartment. I can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, and by phone at 651-296-6820, or 651-770-0283.