Education and Healthcare were the main focus of the town hall meeting hosted by Senator Grant Hauschild and Representative Natalie Zeleznikar last Sunday at the Two Harbors High School. About 50 residents attended the meeting and had an opportunity to listen as Hauschild and Zeleznikar outlined efforts currently underway in Saint Paul to help address North Shore communities’ needs in these two important areas. Time was also provided for questions and comments from the audience.
Both Hauschild and Zeleznikar spoke about the importance of funding and expanding trades classes at the high school level. Both see increasing funding to provide for trades training as a potential way to promote entrepreneurial opportunities for students who are interested in construction and culinary careers and to help address the shortage in healthcare workers, particularly in rural areas. Both Legislators spoke about staff shortages and funding shortfalls in elder care facilities in Northern Minnesota and are working to get increased State funding to nursing homes and assisted living facilities.
Senator Hauschild stated that he would like to see a 5% funding increase, per pupil, over each of the next two budget cycles and wants to increase funding for special education. Representative Zeleznikar expressed concern over reading scores, stating that 50% of students are not reading at grade level. She is advocating for a phonics based approach for teaching reading. Both acknowledged the importance of local control with regard to issues related to curriculum.
Some members of the audience had questions about the Family Medical Leave Act that is currently being considered in St. Paul. Current Federal FMLA allows for 12 weeks of unpaid, job protected leave per year. The problem with this is that most people can’t afford to lose 12 weeks worth of wages to take care of a sick family member or deal with a personal health crisis.
Hauschild stated that the proposed bill is in the working document stage and acknowledged that there are aspects of the proposal that will need to be worked out so as to not put a burden on small businesses. Both legislators seemed to have questions about the proposed legislation and wanted to have a better understanding of how the bill would work before they commit themselves to supporting it.
The Highway 61 project was among other topics of discussion on Sunday. Hauschild and Zeleznikar are both acutely aware of the funding shortfall to complete the work in a timely manner and are working with the Transportation Committee to get more money to fund the project.
It is refreshing to see the bipartisan efforts of Senator Hauschild and Representative Zeleznikar, particularly in the current, divisive political climate. Here’s hoping they are successful in their efforts to advocate for the communities of the North Shore.