‘We have a big challenge in front of us’Published 6:13pm Tuesday, September 17, 2013
Two state House of Representatives members came to Albert Lea to hear concerns about education on Tuesday.
District 27A Rep. Shannon Savick, of Wells, and House Majority Leader and 64A Rep. Erin Murphy, of St. Paul, visited Albert Lea High School to hear from community members, school administrators and teachers during an education roundtable.
“We are proud to talk about the 2013 as the education session,” Murphy said.
Murphy explained that the Legislature passed several initiatives with the goal of improving education in the state. She and Savick explained that the school funding shift that borrowed funds from schools is being paid back and that increased funding for education was allotted. Savick said Albert Lea is set to get almost $800,000 more than last year, and in the next year will get a little over $2 million.
“One of our themes was building the best workforce in the world here in Minnesota,” Savick said.
Savick and Murphy also asked for questions, and school board member Bill Leland said he’s worried about equalization in funding to schools across the state. He said he appreciated the work that’s been done, but that more needs to be done to make up for funding that has been lost over the years.
“We know that schools across the state are under a fair amount of pressure,” Murphy said. “We have a big challenge in front of us.”
Albert Lea resident Jerrold Dettle told the representatives he is concerned about how much of school’s funds go toward athletics. He said he’s a fan of high school sports, but that he’s worried schools spend too much on it. Murphy said she agreed it’s important to pay attention to where funds go, but that she considers sports and the arts part of what makes a well-rounded education for students.
First-grade teacher Peggy Bennett told the representatives that she understands that teacher accountability is important, but that there is a bigger problem in education. She said she is worried about parent involvement in education, and she wants the district to be able to have a little more freedom to try different things.
“Sports are great, but we need to learn to celebrate academics in society just as much,” Bennett said.
Savick and Murphy both said they were proud of the statewide initiative to implement all-day kindergarten and fully fund it. Albert Lea has chosen to fund all-day kindergarten on its own for the last decade. This year’s 10th-graders were the first class to have all-day, every day kindergarten. Superintendent Mike Funk also told the two representatives other initiatives the district is undertaking. One is providing a preschool program targeted to children in poverty in the district. The other is to give preschool curriculum to some day care providers in town. Both programs could potentially help the district by having better prepared kindergartners.
“Those are the unique things Albert Lea is doing to reach those kids and get them to the starting line,” Funk said.
Leland also asked the representatives what could be done at the state level to make it easier for high school and local college instructors to teach classes together or use each other to enhance classes. Funk added that the district is looking at ways to make classes more rigorous for students who intend to go to college after graduating, and at the same time looking at ways to help match students’ abilities with those needed at area businesses.
“We are in the process of taking a look at what we teach and listening to the needs of the community,” Funk said. “Those students who aren’t going to go to college, what opportunities do they have?”
Murphy said she understands the job skills issue, and that it’s an issue she’s seeing around the state. She said that was why she was glad to get out and talk to people around Minnesota about issues.
“We can’t begin to solve problems if we don’t know what they are,” Murphy said.
School board Chairwoman Linda Laurie said she was glad Savick and Murphy visited Albert Lea to hear resident concerns.
“They’re very receptive and open for suggestions,” Laurie said.