Peggy Bennett: Evidence-based programs should be prioritized

Published 10:21 pm Friday, February 15, 2019

Capitol Comments by Peggy Bennett

Peggy Bennett


Trial and error. It’s a part of the process nearly every inventor has gone through, and a process government does not go through often enough.

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As the story goes, Thomas Edison failed thousands of times before he finally succeeded at electrical illumination. Edison realized he could not be stubborn; if the evidence in his experiments showed the plan was unworkable, he scrapped the idea and tried another.

I think it’s very important that government also operate in an evidence-based way — in other words, focus our funds on programs that work and don’t fund what is not working. Too often, government layers program after program on top of each other without ever determining what is working and what isn’t.

I am authoring a bill this year that would help work toward this aim for the millions of dollars we spend every year on educational pre-K-12 grant programs. I believe this is important to make sure our students are benefiting from the best programs that are shown to be the most effective, and to assure that government is being accountable with taxpayer money by focusing those dollars on programming that is proven to work.

We have a large number of educational entities, including school districts, nonprofits and others that receive grant money from the state. Many of them come back every two years for more funding. I believe it behooves us as a state to have the information needed to make sure we are funding the most effective programs — both for the sake of our students, as well as the responsible use of taxpayer money.

Under my bill, each program that receives grant funding awarded by the Minnesota Department of Education must provide an educational goal; a summary of the strategies used to meet the goal, data collection process; and a short report summarizing the data and the effectiveness of the strategies in a report to the commissioner of education. The report would also be submitted to the majority and minority chairs of the education committees.

The bill would serve as a tool for legislative committees to help make better informed decisions when funding educational programs; encourage groups and organizations to think in a more evidence based way; and help determine the successful programs that should be duplicated throughout the state.

But why stop with K-12 education? My goal would be to eventually start addressing other areas as well, as government should be responding to the best and most effective ways so use your money. If programs aren’t working, change the strategy.

Some of you may recall I’m co-authoring legislation that would require hands-free driving in Minnesota. I believe laws like this should also operate on an evidence-based model — either produce evidence of success or else not continue. I plan to offer an amendment to the hands-free bill that requires the law to sunset after five years so we can assess at that time whether it has been effective in reducing distracted driving deaths and injuries. Again, government should be thinking in an evidence-based way, and if it turns out the evidence doesn’t show improvements in this area — or that the technology has changed or improved — we should look at new ways to address the issue.

Evidence-based legislation should be nonpartisan. Government should be in the results business, and should never operate with its feet in cement. If there are programs out there that aren’t working, let’s find them and replace them with ones that are effective.

State Rep. Peggy Bennett, R-Albert Lea, represents Minnesota House District 27A, which includes almost all of Freeborn County, along with parts of Faribault, Mower, Steele and Dodge counties. She can be reached by phone at 651-296-8216 or by email at rep.