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Letter: A disheartening experience at the Capitol
April 17, 2017

From Joe Lawrence, Delano

Three of my colleagues and I, from Delano Public Schools, visited the Minnesota State Capitol April 6, after scheduling appointments with our district’s senators and representatives to discuss important issues currently affecting our students.

We hoped to address issues of funding and support to maintain reasonable class sizes in public schools. We also wanted to stress the importance of adequate funding for our overburdened mental health counselors, and a reduction of arbitrary and unnecessary special education paperwork so our special education teachers can spend more time and energy teaching their students.

In addition, we hoped to discuss the importance of improving our students’ access to arts education to improve educational outcomes. Unfortunately, our experience was extremely disheartening and upsetting.

We had scheduled meetings with three senators and two representatives. None of them were in their offices or available to listen to our concerns at the scheduled times. We left notes and messages and were able to secure two meetings later that morning.

Senator Bruce Anderson was cordial, but non-receptive regarding areas for improvement in our schools, particularly regarding the mental health issues our students face. We were treated respectfully, but our professional observations and opinions were summarily dismissed.

Senator Jenson treated all of our views with open disdain. He cut each of us off mid-sentence, made a dismissive comment regarding the achievement gap between white students and students of color in our state as a “buzzword,” and openly stated that students’ mental health issues are not the responsibility of the schools.

He also said that well-rounded educations for students were not important, and added that math and science teachers should be paid much more than their colleagues because their disciplines and expertise were more important. He knew from our introductions that three of the four of us taught economics, history, band, language arts, theatre, and speech, and dismissed us as lesser professionals because of the content we teach.

Our state representatives should represent all of their constituents’ best interests. The children and teachers in our state are obviously not a priority for the state House and Senate representatives with whom we had hoped to communicate our concerns.

Minnesota’s teachers and students deserve better. I implore everyone who values public education and fair funding for all of our students to reach out to their representatives and to Governor Dayton. Politicians are making decisions for our teachers and students with little to no regard for their stakeholders’ legitimate concerns and opinions.

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