Local leaders ask Senate to preserve state education funds

Emily Johns

In a presentation to the Senate’s Higher Education Committee Tuesday, Twin Cities community members, educators and college students asked that state-funded local education programs be saved from elimination as the state struggles to balance its deficit.

The hearing, held at the College of St. Catherine in St. Paul, provided a chance for community leaders to showcase the importance of state-funded and state grant programs are to area neighborhoods.

“How many dreams will be dashed because there’s not money to go to college?” said the Rev. Devin Miller of St. Paul.

Miller said the programs bring Minnesota private college students into his community to help elementary and high school students learn to read and build personal relationships.

“When you look at cutting the budget, you also have to look at what you have to provide,” Miller said. He added that the programs provide valuable education opportunities for the college students participating, too.

“It shows them how to teach – to come down where the rubber meets the road,” Miller said.

Pamela Johnson, an associate dean for the College of St. Catherine, aid the programs need state financial aid to keep running.

Johnson said that 45 percent of state grant recipients at the College of St. Catherine are first-generation college students who might have a harder time paying for a college education.

“Financial aid is a real lifeline to higher education for people that don’t have that background,” Johnson said.

With the weak economy and falling markets, Johnson said, families also have a harder time paying for college, which makes the state grants even more important.

Doug Hennes, director of government relations at the University of St. Thomas, spoke about three different programs through Minnesota’s private colleges that rely on state funding.

One of these programs, which has received state funding since 1997, is a graduate program at St. Thomas that prepares minority teachers for the classroom. At the end of the yearlong program, teachers are placed in urban schools, usually in St. Paul or Minneapolis, Hennes said.

Lia Xiong, a student in the graduate program, is the child of two Laotian immigrants. She received her undergraduate degree in child psychology from the University and will finish the St. Thomas program in June.

Xiong said she believes minority teachers can identify more with minority students, making a greater difference in the students’ lives.

“In order to be a more effective member of the community,” Xiong said, “I need to be a teacher.

“This program provides quality, effective teachers for the urban schools,” she said.

Emily Johns covers politics and welcomes comments at [email protected]