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New school year brings funding increases

The new school year is beginning, with students of all ages benefiting from legislation that was enacted in recent months — including helpful funding increases.

At the K-12 level, we backed up last biennium's historic investments in our students and schools by investing another $1.35 billion in new funding ($245 more for each student). That equates to two percent more each of the next two years, as requested by our schools. Fergus Falls will receive approximately $1.1 million in new funding the next two years, while Perham ($662,297), Frazee-Vergas ($487,060), Pelican Rapids ($423,852), Underwood ($253,957), Battle Lake ($193,315) and Rothsay ($142,463) are other examples of local funding increases.

Additional funding also is provided for our youngest learners, supporting proven early education programming like pre-K scholarships and school readiness. The new budget provides an additional $50 million in one-time funding to allow districts to develop early learning programs that best fit the needs of their students and families.

Higher education also is receiving a funding increase, with $210 million more for our colleges and universities over the next two years (a total budget of $3.28 billion). As chairman of th House committee on higher education, our focus once again was on students and we made a significant effort to provide opportunities for people who typically have not had access to higher education programs. Financial assistance also is provided to make these programs more affordable and I am pleased with this advancement.

Aside from funding, some important reform measures are being implemented. For instance, we are overhauling what was a broken teacher licensure system in order to eliminate some roadblocks that have obstructed qualified, motivated teaching candidates from achieving careers in education. This follows recommendations from the Office of the Legislative Auditor, which last year our state's teacher licensure system was in need of significant improvement.

The updated model will be administered by a new Professional Educator Licensing and Standards Board to ensure proper implementation and guideline adherence. It is important to note that these changes to the licensing process will not water down the teaching pool by allowing virtually anyone to walk into a classroom and start teaching. Our state standards will remain high and feature greater transparency.

Good luck to students and teachers as the new school year gets underway. It was a pleasure to personally assist in welcoming a group of 55 educators new to Fergus Falls and I encourage area residents to help new teachers throughout our area feel at home.

Rep. Bud Nornes

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