Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Students and faculty testify; achievement gap discussed

Yesterday at the Capitol

Students and faculty address the System's budget
Students and faculty with the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system testified yesterday in front of the House Higher Education and Workforce Development Finance and Policy Division about Gov. Pawlenty's proposed budget cuts to the system. Jennifer Weil, vice-chair of the Minnesota State University Student Association, or MSUSA, said she is concerned about budget cuts for the upcoming biennium because students are still paying the price for the cuts to the system in 2003. Weil went on to say that student debt and borrowing has become the norm. She also told committee members that colleges and universities play a key role in re-building the economy. Also testifying for MSUSA were Cody Nelson, a recent graduate of Bemidji State University and Arron Olson, a student at Southwest Minnesota State University. Nelson said he is concerned about the debt load students are carrying as well as the quality of education if cuts are made to programs and student services. Olson said he is concerned for the long-term health of education.

Jacob Littler, president of the Minnesota State College Student Association, or MSCSA, said 90 percent of the last round of budget cuts was made up by student tuition increases. He said that although tuition increases had been minimized in recent years, the system's two-year colleges still pay the second-highest tuition rate in the nation among comparable schools. Travis Johnson, an online student at Lake Superior College told members that he works 55 hours a week, therefore he takes his courses online. Johnson said he is worried what cuts would mean to online opportunities. Kary Bowser, vice president of MSCSA and also a student at Century College, asked the committee to make public higher education a priority.

Also testifying yesterday were faculty from the Inter Faculty Organization, or IFO, and the Minnesota State College Faculty, or MSCF. Cindy Phillips, a business professor and president of the faculty association at Minnesota State University Moorhead, complimented the university's strategy for preparing themselves for future cuts. She highlighted what is happening on the campus, including a hiring freeze and putting 10 searches on hold. She also said they have identified 22 vital positions that will not be filled, including two in Nursing. Greg Mulcahy, president of MSCF, told members that when a system is being cut, the focus needs to be on what is central, teaching and learning. Mulcahy added that he realizes in order to solve the budget deficit, both raising revenue and making cuts needs to be part of the solution.

You may watch the complete hearing here.

Closing the achievement gap
House K-12 Education Policy and Oversight committee members heard about closing the achievement gap yesterday, and it's still not clear whether changes in teaching and assessment are helping to close the gap. Emmanuel Dolo, research director of Minnesota Minority Education Partnership said, white students graduate from high school at nearly twice the rate of some minority groups, they are better prepared for college, they show higher reading proficiency and less longitudinal decline between third and tenth grades.

St. Paul Public Schools Superintendent Meria Carstarphen said her 10-point legislative agenda “may cost a little, but nothing that would break the bank.” Her plan would amend statutes to give districts more control over the school calendar and local resources as well as modify high-stakes testing as a graduation requirement. A more expensive plan, Carstarphen said, would be the "New Minnesota Miracle," and if that cannot be funded, then simply fully funding special education. Minnesota’s bottom ranking nationwide in the achievement gap flags the need to “change the way we’re doing business if we seriously want to educate all students,” Carstarphen said.

At the Capitol:
Legislative schedules are available for the House and Senate.

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