Education Conversation

On Monday morning, Rep. Mindy Greiling of Roseville (54A) and Rep. Connie Bernardy of Fridley (51B), who are both on the Education Policy and Education Finance committee, came to Northfield to discuss education policy. They were warmly greeted by teachers and students from the Alternative Learning Center and two local Charter Schools. We all are trying to find a way to deliver services and support students in their pursuit of a high school diploma in a hostile state budgetary environment that is expecting the impossible.

Bruce Bjork, candidate for House Seat 25A also joined us, pictured above on the right. I gave the Representatives a tour of the Northfield Community Resource Center and explained how our program fits into this community based model and the mix of educational options in Northfield. I also gave an update of program changes we’re anticipating for the near future to better serve diverse student needs and address financial constraints.

Both Bernardy and Greiling were very supportive and proud of Minnesota’s highly acclaimed public education system, and are concerned about the effects of NCLB, particularly because the recently released legislative audit showed that 80% of schools are expected not to perform to standards. This inconsistency, a school system that we know is superior to most nationally, failing at an 80% rate points out that the underlying purpose of NCLB is for public schools to fail. The result is privatization of the essential service of public education, reliance on vouchers which would then be a government subsidy of this private activity, and which would further stratify our society because vouchers would not cover the entire cost — those unable to pay the difference would be left with the ‘failing’ schools. Those students with special needs, whom it costs more to serve, would also suffer as private schools can ‘choose’ to serve students based on academic ability and ability to pay.

Maria Musachio, from Kenyon and now a teacher at the Village School, raised the issue of the strict teacher licensure requirements, which she saw as problematic for smaller schools such as hers, where a teacher licensed for biology would not be able to teach other sciences even when that teacher has the necessary education and understanding. Liese Irwin from ArtTech seconded this concern, noting that her school is based on an interdisciplinary approach, and under the new rules, it could require complete reconfiguration of their purpose and mission. In a smaller school within a larger district, such as the ALC, this can be an issue, and in some districts, it can mean that teachers have to split their time between different sites, as Musachio did between Kenyon and Wanamingo as an EBD teacher in that district.

Keith Johnson, also from ArtTech, was very glad to hear the DFL support for charter schools, as he is concerned about the trend toward privatization inherent in the Governor’s support of charter schools, doing a good thing for all the wrong reasons. I believe charter schools are a very important part of the mix of educational services that should be offered, but I am concerned about the competition for scarce resources that is always touted by Republicans as a good thing.

One student asked about the impact of high-stakes testing. She was close to graduation and wanted to get her diploma to be able to move on and better support her son, she is concerned about being able to pass the State required math test and wanted to know what alternatives there were. She felt if another option besides the test were offered, she could feel less uncertain and anxious. She understood the need to have students show what they’ve learned but wondered why another way couldn’t be found for students who had trouble with math and tests. The Representatives encouraged her to go to her Representative, Ray Cox and encourage him to support alternatives for students to show in other ways what they had learned. We all need to watch carefully what our Representative says and does about education.

Our school shares a building with the local Head Start Program and every day they take a cart of snacks and lunches from the cafeteria to the Head Start classrooms. This day was no exception, and as the Head Start snack cart went through the room we were meeting in, Rep. Bernardy noted that the milk budget was cut and that would be felt soon.

I asked the Representatives about Learning Year Legislation that supports our summer school programming and whether or not funding would be restored to allow us to serve students better.
Rep. Greiling was aware of this issue and said she could not promise anything, but she was very supportive of restoring the funding. Rep. Greiling encouraged students and teachers to keep informed about education issues at the legislature, but noted that the Republicans determine who testifies before the committees and control the agenda. FYI, if you are interested in testifying regarding a particular bill, this is done by finding out when the bill comes up before the Committee and contacting the Committee Chair’s (Education Finance and Education Policy) assistant and asking to be put on the list to testify — it’s that simple. Greiling again urged all of us to be contacting Committee members and to particularly be contacting our own Representative and Senator to let them know how these policies affect us, those of us who have to live with the results.

To read more about their visit check out the Northfield News Guest Column from Rep. Mindy Greiling.

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