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Column: A great education for all Minnesota students

Steve Sandell

By Steve Sandell, House District 53B

Whether a student goes to school in Wadena, Washington, Houston or Hennepin counties, they deserve access to a great education.

We can't ensure that all schools across the state have the same standards and quality of instruction when local school districts have to go back to voters year after year to ask for more money in order to meet their budgets. Minnesota should hold up our end of the bargain and provide teachers, students and school districts across the state with reliable, sustainable funding.

What does it mean to provide a great education? It means that adolescents are prepared for life outside the classroom. That they have a solid base on which to build their education, whether they go on to career training, straight into a job, or seek a four-year degree. That base should include service learning, opportunities to jump-start college in an affordable way, and, at the most basic level, smaller class sizes so all students get the individual instruction they need.

Service learning has been proven to reduce academic disparities, improve the environment, increase youth engagement with community, and expand positive intergenerational and multicultural relationships. I've introduced bipartisan legislation to create a statewide, informal network of schools, organizations and students to combine classroom work with service to the community. Giving students opportunities to practice goal-setting and solve real-world community problems will help them think creatively in the classroom and develop stronger academic skills.

There is a generation of students who, once they decide to pursue higher education, graduate with insurmountable levels of student debt, or worse, don't finish college because they can't afford it. I've introduced legislation to increase funding for programs that help students earn college credit while they are still in high school, which both encourages students to seek higher education, and makes it less expensive once they are there.

Concurrent enrollment, or post-secondary enrollment options, pairs post-secondary institutions with high schools to give students the opportunity to challenge themselves and get college credit while they're in high school. This reduces the financial burden of college and introduces students to the idea of college courses earlier. When it takes the average college student six years to complete a four-year degree, these programs can save thousands of dollars down the road.

Finally, local districts currently provide on average 27 percent of their own funding, the state pays roughly two-thirds, and the federal government pays 6 percent. The state's share has significantly decreased since it made a 75 percent commitment in the early 2000s, while costs, especially for special education and the per-pupil cost of delivering services, have increased.

This inequality in school funding forces schools to increase class sizes, lay off critical staff and cut after school programs.

I've introduced a bill to use state funds to reduce local school districts' dependence on unsustainable local property tax hikes. While the achievement gap widens between schools in the metro and schools in Greater Minnesota, our state loses out on the value that these young learners bring, and will continue to provide, to our state.

As a former teacher, my top priority is to make sure that the students of our state receive a well-rounded, high-quality education. These measures would help ensure that happens. I hope you share these goals with me and that we can work together to accomplish them.

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