Senator John Hoffman: Working together to improve our schools
Minnesota is known for our strong schools and great educational system. As a former school board member and long-time advocate for local schools, I’ve been an effective voice at the Capitol for Champlin, Brooklyn Park and Coon Rapids schools. But we can’t sit on our past successes; we can and will do better.
We can find common ground by passing bipartisan legislation to make our schools safer through security upgrades, provide more funding for mental health support, address our special education deficiencies, look at creative ways to fund early childhood education, provide better paths for students in vocational/career technical training, and address reading proficiency.
Safe Schools funding. There are a number of proposals working their way through the legislature to help make our schools safer. These proposals include an increased safe school levy to help districts pay for increased security measures and staff. Other bills would expand allowable uses of long-term facilities maintenance money for school security modifications. Discussions are also underway to provide grants for more school support staff and allow districts to hire additional counselors, social workers and other support staff.
Mental Health Support. I support legislation to increase school-linked mental health grants. These grants are vital to increase accessibility for these services for children and youth who are uninsured or underinsured. Grants will improve clinical and function outcomes for children and youth with a mental health diagnosis and improve the identification of mental health issues for children and youth. This important initiative connects effective mental health services with schools and students. The project has proven to be particularly effective in reaching children who have never previously accessed mental health services. Unfortunately, schools lack the funding to provide adequate resources to students most in need. They also lack staff to help identify problems students face. Mental health grants would provide more funding for much needed mental health counselors in our schools. We currently do not have enough mental health resources— both as a preventative measure and to help students cope with trauma, to help students lead healthy lives and reach their potential.
Special Education. Joint special education committee hearings were held this fall with an emphasis on Minnesota’s funding design and program requirements, especially paperwork mandates. I expect these conversations to continue this session. The Association of Metropolitan School Districts are requesting that the state pay for 50 percent of its portion of the cross subsidy—$126.5 million over four years.
Early Childhood/Early Learning Scholarships. In 2017, $50 million in one-time money was appropriated and the School Readiness Plus program began. Unfortunately, the $86 million appropriated in 2016 was frozen for voluntary PreK in 2017. I anticipate that there will be legislation introduced and discussed to restore these important funds to help our youngest learners.
Vocational/Career Tech training. Minnesota businesses are clamoring for workers—especially in the skilled trades. E-12 education committees will likely discuss solutions to engage businesses for students wanting to try out various careers.
Reading proficiency. Legislation will likely be heard to require school districts to screen students for dyslexia between the beginning of kindergarten and the beginning of grade 2, as well as any student who does not read at grade level from grade 2 on. The biggest challenge may be in finding policies that don’t overburden school districts and that can be effective for students.
I’m hopeful we can work together to pass common-sense legislation to help our area schools.
To contact me with your ideas and feedback, you can reach me by phone at 651-296-4154 or by email at email@example.com. You can also mail letters or pay me a visit in the Minnesota Senate Building, Room 2231, right across the street from the Capitol.
This column was first published in the Hometown Source.