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Viewpoint: Education bill is recipe for the future

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Viewpoint: Education bill is recipe for the future
Woodbury Minnesota 8420 City Centre Drive 55125

The Minnesota House of Representatives passed the Omnibus E-12 Education Finance and Policy Bill late last month. The bill puts forth several goals to close the achievement gap, reach a 100 percent high school graduation rate, 100 percent literacy by third grade, and 100 percent career and college readiness by graduation. These goals are a product of the "education session" and will contribute to the goal of building the "world's best workforce" by 2027.

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We all know that education is vital to the future of Minnesota. I have always thought of our state as a leader in education. Unfortunately, that lead has been slipping. Minnesota has dropped from the top 10 in school funding to 22nd and is now ranked 47th in the country in terms of classroom sizes. Many schools in greater Minnesota have been forced to combine and/or reduce the school week to four days.

It's time we reinvest in our schools to make sure that our kids are being prepared for success in life and 21st century jobs in the global market. The education bill fully funds optional all-day, every-day kindergarten and invests $50 million in early learning scholarships. These investments in early learners have been proven to improve test scores, close the achievement gap and ensure our students have a solid academic foundation.

In the wake of a historic school spending shift, the education bill put forth this session increases funding for K-12 schools by 4 percent over the next two years. This will result in big increases in local per pupil funding -- $117 in fiscal year (FY) 2014 and $454 in FY 2015 for District 833, and $155 in FY 2014 and $485 in FY 2015 for District 622.

New reforms and accountability measures will be implemented to go along with this funding increase. This includes a new student assessment system to ensure that students are ready for a career or college. In addition, schools will develop strategic plans for student success and will communicate their progress annually to the public. Department of Education Regional Centers of Excellence will provide assistance and work with schools to reach goals. Innovation grants to increase student achievement will be also available to schools. These reforms will ensure our schools are providing a modern and effective curriculum that puts kids on the path to the world's best workforce.

A decade of disinvestment in education is too long, and now is the time to reinvest in our kids. Declining funds for schools over the past decade have increased challenges for education in Minnesota. It is time to support our students, teachers, administrators and all school staff for their dedication and professionalism. Testing has been the driver in education philosophy. Through this proposal, we are making learning the main priority and moving our education system into the future.

I have heard from many parents and members of our community who have a stake in our schools. I want to thank those of you who have contacted me. If you haven't, please contact me with your views anytime at (651) 296-7807 or by email at rep.joann.ward@house.mn.

Ward, a Woodbury Democrat, represents House District 53A in the Legislature

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