Pawlenty makes campaign stop in A.L.

Published 12:00 am Sunday, September 17, 2006

By Rebecca Houg, special to the Tribune

Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty said Tuesday schools need to rethink traditional structures for providing education to children.

For instance, when people want to add classes it usually requires a classroom, a teacher and a curriculum, all costly elements, he said. Computer instruction, long-distance education and programs shared among districts, he said, are three less-expensive ways to achieve the same results.

&8220;The schools are filled with good people, but I realize we have a system that needs updating and money needs to be used more wisely,&8221; Pawlenty said.

Local citizens, political candidates and members of the media gathered Friday at Trumble&8217;s Restaurant in Albert Lea for a slice of pie and a visit with Pawlenty.

Pawlenty swung through southern Minnesota meeting with limited groups of people before he was headed to Faribault to see a large group of people at a hot air balloon rally in Faribault that evening.

The subject of education is high on his agenda, he said.

He said he hopes the trend in schools of moving from a seniority-based promotion structure to a performance-based one continues to catch on. The program Pawlenty refers to is called Q Comp &8212; Quality Compensation for Teachers, a program of the Minnesota Department of Education.

The governor said schools need to be run in a more modern fashion, looking to the future. &8220;The way kids learn and interact is totally different than it was 20 years ago,&8221; Pawlenty said.

He suggests that schools think outside the box when it comes to creating curriculums and implementing technology to uncover new, more efficient ways of educating.

Health care

Pawlenty wanted to address the state of health care costs and the work he has done during his term to help lower costs for Minnesotans.

&8220;We were the first to have state-inspected Canadian pharmacies where we facilitated the purchase of medication,&8221; Pawlenty said.

Pawlenty, a Republican, seeks a second term this November. He faces state Attorney General Mike Hatch, a DFLer, and Peter Hutchinson of the Independence Party. The three squared off in a governor debate this week. One topic was about how Canada negotiates the price of prescription drugs, which brings costs down.

Pawlenty said he thinks because the U.S. government is one the largest American purchasers of prescription drugs through its Medicare program, it works well when it negotiates for its drug purchases. The same on the state level for state programs, he said. He said a government-run health care system like in Canada isn&8217;t a good idea for America.

Pawlenty said he helped implement a program called QCare, which is an effort to create transparency within the health care system. The program assigns quality rankings to health care facilities on a number of major conditions. &8220;You can find 20 to 40 percent swings between clinics in quality and price rankings,&8221; Pawlenty said.

People can log on to www.minnesotahealthinfo.org to access this information.

Smoking

A statewide smoking ban has been pushed around state Legislature without much headway.

Pawlenty said he would support a reasonable statewide smoking ban. He said it is the natural progression of states.

He said it has been good for Minnesota to see what local governments have created for smoking laws. He said it will aid the state pass a working law when the time comes for a ban.

Pawlenty said he likes bans structured for establishments that serve more food than drink.

&8220;I think you will see one approved in the next five years.&8221; But he went on to add, &8220;I don&8217;t sense Legislature is ready to support one yet.&8221;

Energy

Pawlenty briefly touched on the issue of renewable fuels and said he feels Minnesota has been a leader in this area. &8220;Half of all E85 pumps in the country right now, are in Minnesota,&8221; he remarked.

Local response

It&8217;s one thing to propose cost-efficient education ideas, but its another when metropolitan school districts can afford nine foreign-language classes and rural ones can only afford one, state Rep. Dan Dorman, a Republican from Albert Lea, said.

He said Pawlenty fails to understand the lack of equality among schools in Minnesota. Children in one part of the state deserve the same quality education as children in others, he said.

Dorman said he agrees with Pawlenty on the topic of performance-based teacher compensation.

&8220;It&8217;s a good thing,&8221; he said.

Dorman remarked that feedback from pilot programs in schools has been positive and a lot of teachers like it &8220;but the hard part will be finding the money to fully fund this program in all Minnesota schools.&8221;

Part of the reason prescription drugs are less expensive, Dorman said, is because the state isn&8217;t paying the 2 percent surcharge it requires Minnesota pharmacies to add to their prices. The surcharge is used to fund programs providing low-income Minnesotans with health care.

&8220;We could save all Minnesotans in the same way by cutting the 2 percent from all prescription drugs,&8221; Dorman said.

Dorman, though a fan of lowering the cost of health care, said QCare isn&8217;t very helpful for rural Minnesotans living in areas where they don&8217;t have several health care options.

&8220;I&8217;m concerned about the governor being metro-centric, and that&8217;s just another example of it,&8221; Dorman said.