Majority leader: 2013 session was good to education

Published 9:55 am Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The Legislature passed several initiatives with the goal of improving education, said Minnesota House Majority Leader Erin Murphy during a visit Tuesday to Albert Lea.

“We are proud to talk about 2013 as the education session,” she said.

Erin Murphy

Erin Murphy

Murphy, DFL-St. Paul, and District 27A Rep. Shannon Savick, DFL-Wells, visited Albert Lea High School to hear from community members, school administrators and teachers during an education roundtable.

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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 in 2014 than this year, and in 2015 will get a little more than $2 million.

“One of our themes was building the best workforce in the world here in Minnesota,” Savick said.

Shannon Savick

Shannon Savick

Albert Lea 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 said 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 noted he is a fan of high school sports but said 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 an education well-rounded for students.

Sibley Elementary School first-grade teacher Peggy Bennett told the representatives that she understands that teacher accountability is important but she worries about getting parents involved in education. She also 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 said they were proud of the initiative to implement all-day kindergarten and fully fund it. Albert Lea Area Schools has funded all-day, everyday kindergarten on its own for the last decade. This year’s 10th-graders were the first class to have it.

Linda Laurie

Linda Laurie

Superintendent Mike Funk 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 child-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 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.

Leland, Bill color

Bill Leland

Funk added that the district is looking at ways to make classes more rigorous for students who intend to go to college 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 understands the job skills issue, she said, and added it’s an issue she’s seeing around the state. She said that was why she was glad to talk to people around Minnesota.

“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.