Creating the World’s Best Workforce is a primary focus for the Senate E-12 Education Committee. This week, the Committee highlighted several bills that will move Minnesota closer to this goal and help address several problems in the state’s E-12 system.
School Facilities Funding: Drawn from recommendations of the School Facilities Financing Working Group, two bills would work together to help property-poor districts repair their long-neglected school facilities and put rural and suburban districts on more equal footing with their metro neighbors. S.F. 75 equalizes the capital projects referendum levy, bringing more stability to our education facilities. S.F. 76 streamlines three competing revenue programs and establishes a new long-term facilities maintenance revenue program.
4K for Kids: S.F. 6 addresses public school pre-k programming for all four-year-olds in Minnesota, aiming to provide all young Minnesotans the option of entering a quality preschool program. Research has shown that 90% of brain development occurs before age five, making it vitally important that parents and students have this early education option. Increased funding for early learning initiatives will help to close the achievement gap and offers a strong return on investment.
School Readiness Tax Credit: S.F. 244 will help to lower the rising price of childcare, a cost that can make it difficult for many children to get the support they need to be ready for school. Based on a model currently used in Louisiana, the legislation uses the Parent Aware ranking system to create tiered credits depending on the quality rating of the child care provider. It creates a refund that parents can use to help pay the costs of child care. Additionally, the legislation extends a credit to businesses who seek to offer quality child care support for their own employees.
School Breakfasts and Vision Screening: Research shows non-academic barriers to learning can severely impede upon a student’s education by not allowing them to be engaged in the classroom or to make the most of their academic learning time. Two bills will work to fight back against these non-academic barriers. Offering school breakfasts (S.F. 344) and requiring comprehensive eye exams (S.F. 334) before our children enter kindergarten will help close our achievement gap and help more kids succeed in Minnesota schools.
School Counselors: A report by the American School Counselor Association ranked Minnesota 48th in the nation in terms of our student-per-counselor ratio. It is critical that we expand student services, including counselors, psychologists, social workers, nurses, and chemical dependence counselors. This legislation provides local school districts with additional state investments under a 50/50 local match requirement to ensure that students have better access to the uniquely qualified professionals who provide the full array of student support services our kids need to succeed in the classroom and beyond.
Pathways to College: This legislation will provide more students the opportunity to gain college credits while still in high school without having to travel to higher education institutions. Overall, dual or concurrent enrollment aid has decreased since 2007; the amount provided to schools has dropped significantly over the past six years. Because the funding is capped and then prorated to schools based on the number of total course enrollments across the state, fewer schools could participate. This bill will reverse that trend and expand the program so more students can participate.
School Technology: A package of bills (S.F. 18, S.F. 20, S.F. 45, and S.F. 78) propose a greater investment in technology for Minnesota school districts. Access to broadband is critical to student success in the 21st century, as are educators who embrace and utilize the power of technology. Increased access to technology will also help accomplish the state’s goal of increasing graduates in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) fields.