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Local legislators Magnus, Hamilton and Schomacker talk budgets for education, nursing homes

WORTHINGTON -- The federal government may have managed to avoid a government shutdown, but movement at the state level was in full force as District 22 Sen. Doug Magnus, District 22A Rep. Joe Schomacker and District 22B Rep. Rod Hamilton met with local residents to discuss varying issues of concern at a legislative breakfast on Saturday morning.

District 518 Superintendent, John Landgaard, commenced the discussion referring to Minnesota House Bill 945 and Minnesota Senate Bill 1030, legislation which he sees to be of concern to his district.

"The piece of the puzzle that really irritates me about this whole thing is that it's an approach to try to improve education, but you're adding to the costs of education," Landgaard stated.

According to Landgaard's estimates, the proposed legislation could force the district to conduct an estimated 500 evaluations of classroom teachers, which Landgaard believes would be difficult to achieve with the current number of administrators. The district currently evaluates tenure teachers once every three years, and probationary teachers are evaluated three times per year.

"Don't get me wrong, I'm for improving teacher accountability and quality education systems, but in budget times, my view of this legislation is really addressed at the elephant that continually is in the room and that is teacher tenure," Landgaard added. "Yes there are some things in here (legislation) that can create some reform, but the majority of it is not what's good for education."

The amount of reform in education may still be unclear, but Rep. Hamilton noted that although the state is currently facing a $5 billion deficit, education is the only area that will see additional funding.

"We have schools in this state that are failing these students year after year after year, and we're looking at ways that we can actually address the achievement gap between races, different cultures, whatever the case may be," Rep. Hamilton added. "We have taken testimony after testimony from students in this system that we are continually failing and the kids have no where else to go."

Landgaard noted that District 518 was one of the above mentioned failing schools, although he asserted that the district is not failing its students.

"We are one of the schools listing as a failing schools and I'll tell you our educators are not failing these kids," he explained. "The test is a one moment in time not comparing the same kids because there is no growth model being used. The MCA is not a fair testing tool for judging employees and we have a great staff that is doing their job."

"We have areas that need reform," Sen. Magnus responded. "Obviously we have schools in this state that are an absolute train wreck and now we're sitting here trying to write legislation to fit the whole picture."

Rep. Joe Schomacker presented attendees with alarming statistics, noting that of all students that go through the public education system, only one percent finish college and get a job in their respective field of study.

"These are ideas that have been tried and tested throughout the country with success," Schomacker said of proposed reform. "We're not going to implement programs that haven't seen success in other parts of the country."

Devastating cuts proposed to nursing homes was also an issue presented by one of the attendees, who stated that it is becoming increasingly difficult to attract and retain staff that has not seen a pay increase for the past two years.

Rep. Hamilton assured attendees that he's done his part to protect nursing homes through a bill that will increase funding for deep rural nursing homes by $30,000through $40,000.

Additionally, the repeal of rate equalization Minnesota and private payers cannot be charged anymore than people that paid for by the state.

The repeal will place a two percent cap per year up to four years -- up to the cost of what it pays to provide care. Rep. Hamilton explained that these measures will ultimately increase funding for nursing home in deep rural Minnesota.

Rep. Schomacker also explained an amendment to the bill which would allow nursing home certified through Medicare and Medicaid to also be licensed by the state and the extra regulations involved with the state will not be needed in order to be licensed.

"We have issues with nursing homes that have to fill out forms one way on one sheet and fill out the same information differently on another form," Rep. Schomacker explained.

"We're trying to find ways that would reduce the paperwork burden while still holding a quality standard and allow employees to spend time with the residents and actually do what they were hired to do."

Local Government Aid was also an expressed issue of concern.

However, Rep. Schomacker noted if LGA were eliminated, the state would still be faced with a $4.5 billion deficit.

"This is the most difficult year that I've been exposed to," Rep. Hamilton stated of the current fiscal deficit.

In closing, Rep. Hamilton reiterated the current state of the economy and its impact on citizens throughout the state and the entire nation, stating, "We have to work through this and be responsible through the process."