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Ed Committee priority: Kent's student-to-counselor ratio bill

Ending the state's teacher shortage crisis, addressing Minnesota's 46th student-to-counselor ratio ranking and expanding pre-K for Minnesota's 4-year-olds are among the Senate Education Committee's top priorities for the 2016 legislative session. State Sen. Susan Kent, DFL-Woodbury, joined fellow DFLers Senate Education Chairman Sen. Chuck Wiger of Maplewood, Sen. Kevin Dahle of Northfield, Sen. Vicki Jensen of Owatonna, and Sen. Katie Sieben of Cottage Grove Monday to discuss their committee priorities in an Expanding Education Opportunities press conference.

Kent has worked tirelessly to get more student counselors into Minnesota schools.

This year she's back with a $20 million grant proposal.

"Whether you come from a family with a strong support system, or no support system at all — every school student can benefit in some way from a school counselor or support staff," Kent said in a press release. "School nurses, psychologists, social workers, chemical dependency counselors and others all work to help our students stay healthy and succeed in the classroom and beyond. I am hopeful this is the year we can get something done to improve our state's abysmal student-to-counselor ratio."

Sieben is chief authoring a bill to bring pre-K to more of Minnesota's 4-year-old children. The mother of three said that she's seen the benefits of high quality preschool in the school districts across her district.

"All children, regardless of income, should be able to attend a high quality preschool program," Sieben said. "We don't say that children can only attend third or fifth grade if they can afford to pay for it, and families shouldn't have to make that difficult decision for their 4-year-olds. School-based preschool programs can provide wraparound services, like special education, vision screening and busing that makes public preschool programs attractive to families. Minnesota needs to move in this direction, and I'm proud to support such efforts."

Wiger said the committee is prioritizing getting more high-quality teachers into the classroom.

"However, not only do we want to get them to go into the teaching profession, we want to offer our ongoing support by investing in teacher training and development.

Dahle, an experienced classroom teacher, is authoring a package of bills that help address teacher shortage by offering loan forgiveness, grants to help pay for student teaching and incentives for teacher in high demand areas, as well as a bill to invest in teacher training and development which would help districts pay for training sessions for their teachers.

Jensen is authoring a bill to add money to the agriculture education grant program.

"Agriculture is the state's second largest employer and vital to Minnesota's economy," Jensen said. "It creates high-paying jobs that include not only the traditional roles on the farm, but also opportunities in biochemistry, communications and engineering fields. Extending high school agriculture programming into the summer, provides the ultimate STEM experience in a hands on setting, preparing students for a career in agriculture."