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State Representative JoAnn Ward

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100 Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.
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For more information contact: Matt Roznowski 651-296-8875

Posted: Jul 15 2014 9:08AM
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E-Update

Legislative update: A strong education is the key to a bright future


Dear neighbors,

For my final legislative update of the year, I want to talk about an issue that is near and dear to my heart: education.

Minnesota has thrived for decades because of a historical commitment to providing our children with the best education possible. That commitment has allowed us to attract and retain major employers like 3M, Medtronic, Target and many more over the years, ensuring good jobs that allow people to provide for themselves and their families. In fact, our well educated workforce is a major reason we have one of the highest numbers of Fortune 500 companies per capita in the country.

During the highly productive 2013-2014 session, the legislature restored our historical commitment to education after a decade of irresponsible funding cuts and borrowing from our schools – because I believe that investing in our children’s education is the best investment we can make.

Here are some of the legislature’s most noteworthy accomplishments that are helping to ensure every child has an opportunity to reach his or her full potential.

Giving our youngest learners a strong start:

Research shows that our students’ earliest years have a major impact on their achievement later in life. That’s why the legislature made historic investments in our youngest learners, giving taxpayers the most bang for their buck and preparing our students for success.

For the first time in state history, every child will be able to attend all-day Kindergarten free of charge starting this fall. And to make sure more students are prepared for Kindergarten, the legislature expanded preschool scholarships.

Boosting funding for every student:

Instead of cutting funding and borrowing billions from our students like the previous legislature did, I was proud to invest in our schools and boost the per pupil funding formula. Our local school districts received significant funding increases:

North St. Paul-Maplewood-Oakdale Public Schools

• Over $1.7 million in new funding last school year (about $163 more per pupil)

• Over $5.6 million in new funding this coming school year (about $549 more per pupil)

South Washington County Public Schools

• Over $2 million in new funding last school year (about $118 more per pupil)

• Over $8 million in new funding this coming school year (about $474 more per pupil)

Our communities strongly support investing in local schools. Just last fall, an overwhelming 65 percent of voters renewed a 10-year levy for South Washington County schools. In fall 2011, a whopping 67 percent of voters renewed a levy for North St. Paul-Maplewood-Oakdale schools.

Ensuring safe and supportive schools:

No child should ever have to experience bullying, intimidation or harassment at school (or anywhere for that matter). That’s why I’m proud to have helped pass the Safe and Supportive Schools Act, which gives school districts new tools to prevent bullying and ensure a safe learning environment. When students feel safe, they learn more and their academic skills improve. In the long-term, this new law will help save taxpayer dollars by producing better health outcomes, reducing crime and boosting employment.

Expanding healthy meals:

In response to a report showing that some students were being denied meals and unfairly singled out in front of their classmates with hand stamps visible to all that said “LUNCH” or “MONEY,” the legislature expanded the school lunch program to ensure that no child ever goes without a hot lunch due to the inability to pay. Over 60,000 children in Minnesota will benefit from this legislation. We also used a small portion of Minnesota’s $1.2 billion budget surplus to provide free breakfasts for every Kindergartener in the state. These are important, compassionate steps to make sure our children can succeed in the classroom, because educating children who live in poverty is the best way to lift them out of poverty.

Prioritizing college and career readiness:

The legislature tied new investments in education to rigorous new achievement goals designed to maximize college and career-readiness. Schools must adopt a comprehensive, long-term strategic plan to improve teaching and learning that is aligned with creating the “world’s best workforce,” which will help our state compete in today’s global economy.

School districts must show progress toward closing achievement gaps, have students reading at grade level by third grade and have 100 percent of students graduate from high school. And we provided Minnesota’s educators with improved resources and tools to meet those goals.

We also changed the direction of the failed student assessment system that did a poor job of preparing our students for careers and college, which resulted in graduates needing to take remedial classes after beginning college.

In order to make sure our kids have the knowledge and skills needed for success in the workforce or in college, students are no longer taking the GRAD test. Instead, they are now taking career- and college-readiness exams that begin in middle school to provide parents, students and teachers with important information and empower them with early planning for their career goals and success in learning.

By starting these tests when students are in middle school, parents and teachers can help kids correct course before it is too late, turning our testing system into a tool instead of a barrier that holds them back.

Making college more affordable:

When my first term in the legislature began in January of 2013, college tuition had increased every year for over a decade, putting an unacceptable financial burden on Minnesotans seeking a post-secondary degree. This was the result of budget cuts to higher education by previous legislatures.

I proudly helped put an end to those tuition hikes by passing a two-year tuition freeze for undergraduate students attending Minnesota’s public colleges and universities. The legislature also approved the biggest increase to the state grant program in over a decade. Those steps are helping bend the cost curve and make college more affordable.

Building on our progress:

In the years ahead, we need to maintain and expand our state’s commitment to education. Some of my major priorities include fully closing our achievement gap, providing every single 3 and 4 year old with high quality early learning opportunities and doing even more to address unacceptably high levels of college student debt.

Stay in touch:

Although this is my final mass email update of the year, you can always contact me with any comments, questions or concerns and I will be happy to follow up with you as soon as possible. I always appreciate hearing from you.

Sincerely,


JoAnn Ward
State Representative, District 53A

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