Teacher training to get upgrade

A redesign in the works of how Minnesota evaluates teacher preparation programs could shed light on the link between teacher preparation and student outcome. On Jan. 11, Board of Teaching Executive Director Karen Balmer took the House Education Reform Committee through a fast-paced, but thorough, overview of current standards, practices and new initiatives related to teacher licensure, certification and license renewal. Committee Chairwoman Rep. Sondra Erickson (R-Princeton) and committee members have said that improving teacher effectiveness is a priority this session. Eleven members appointed by the governor sit on the Board of Teaching. Continue Reading

Peace Coffee Part II: Evolution of a green coffee shop

Remember the team from Peace Coffee? You know, the fair trade coffee company from Minnesota with more than a casual commitment to environmental sustainability. Last week we heard about how they were on the forefront of the fair trade coffee industry in the United States. Recently they’ve taken that innovative, pioneering spirit and used green business practices to open up a new coffee shop, the appropriately named Peace Coffee Shop. The progression of building the coffee shop was captured on the Peace Coffee Flickr page, and as you can see, these guys weren’t afraid to get their hands dirty. Continue Reading

GOP plans broad environmental, energy reforms in Legislature

House Republicans are putting together a comprehensive environmental and energy agenda that they say will promote business and cut down bureaucratic red tape while protecting water, air and other natural resources. Among the provisions: expanding nuclear and coal energy in Minnesota, speeding the permitting process for facilities that discharge pollutants or manage waste products, and promoting the use of “greener” chemicals by farmers. Environmental groups are expressing concern over some of the measures. “We have to go above and beyond what some other states may do in order to protect our natural resources, just because they’re so vast and so unbelievable,” said Rep. Denny McNamara (R-Hastings), who chairs the committee on environment, energy and natural resources, in an interview with The Minnesota Independent. “That being said, we currently have built a model that’s not necessarily doing what’s best for Minnesota in terms of creating jobs.” Continue Reading

Where will the children go?

A recently passed state law has some Minnesota charter school authorizers scrambling to meet new financial oversight and accountability requirements. There’s anticipation this could cause up to 15 charter school closures over the next year, leaving the question: Where will those students go?

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Property taxpayers’ shrinking fiscal equity

A portion of Minnesota’s business lobby-including the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, the Minnesota Taxpayers Association, and the Minnesota Commercial Real Estate Development Association-have launched an effort to further cut city Local Government Aid (LGA). The arguments for further LGA slashing are flawed and will only lead to more property tax increases for Minnesota homeowners, renters, and businesses and more reductions in funding for public services and infrastructure.  LGA was one of many property tax relief programs enacted in the early 1970s. The state gives local governments general fund dollars-primarily generated from income and sales taxes-to reduce property taxes. In exchange for state dollars, local governments are forbidden from imposing sales taxes, with limited exceptions as defined in state law. The principal mechanism for reducing city property taxes has been LGA. Continue Reading

First two bills address Republican priorities

The first two House files of the 2011 session address the majority party’s top two priorities: the economy and the state budget.  House Speaker Kurt Zellers (R-Maple Grove) said HF1 and HF2, the symbolically important first two bills of the session, represent initiatives that would help encourage businesses to build and expand in Minnesota. “These are the things we promised to make Minnesota more competitive,” Zellers said. HF1, sponsored by Rep. Dan Fabian (R-Roseau), would speed up and streamline the state’s environmental permitting process. Fabian said the state’s cumbersome permitting process is driving businesses to relocate outside Minnesota. “In my part of the state, jobs go across the Red River to North Dakota,” Fabian said. Continue Reading

Republican job creation proposals scrutinized

Republican leadership in the Minnesota Legislature unveiled its job creation proposals on Monday and filed the first bills intended to boost employment and reduce the deficit. The House bills would create “priority-based budgeting” and scale back the environmental permitting process, while the Senate introduced a bill to reduce income and property taxes for businesses. The latter policy drew strong criticism from DFLers, unions and nonprofit groups.  Freshman Rep. Dan Fabian (R-Roseau) said of the changes to the environmental permitting bill, “This a bill, as we said during the campaign, it’s about jobs. This is a bill that I think can be bipartisan.” The bill would shorten the amount of time it takes for businesses to get a permit, would allow developers to write Environmental Impact Statements (EIS) “rather than a responsible government unit such as a state agency or local government,” and “repeal Minnesota Pollution Control Agency rules that “prohibiting construction before permit issuance for projects requiring National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System water permits.” Continue Reading

Settlement nullifies Jimmy John’s election; union seeks negotiations

The National Labor Relations Board Monday approved a settlement that nullifies the results of the Oct. 22 union election at Jimmy John’s sandwich shops in the Twin Cities, which the Industrial Workers of the World narrowly lost. The union has asked Jimmy John’s management to negotiate over pay and working conditions. In the settlement, management admits no wrongdoing, but agrees to post a notice that it will not violate workers’ rights and hold a meeting to read it to employees. In addition, Jimmy John’s issued a check to an employee who had been denied merit pay because of his union activity.  While the union did not win recognition, the settlement validated worker claims that management intimidated and retaliated against workers, resulting in an 87-85 vote against union representation, the Jimmy John’s Workers Union, an affiliate of the Industrial Workers of the World, said in a statement. Continue Reading

Minnesotan DFLers call for civility in wake of Arizona shootings

At the inauguration ball celebrating newly elected Gov. Mark Dayton on Saturday night, DFL members of Minnesota’s congressional delegation weighed in on the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and the deaths of six people at a constituent meeting at a Tucson, Ariz., grocery store. The members sent their prayers to Giffords and the other victims of alleged shooter Jared Loughner and called for civility in political rhetoric. None blamed specific political movements or ideologies for the shooting. During the ball, Rep. Betty McCollum stopped the ceremony to hold a moment of silence. “By and large in our country when people have disagreements, they do it with civility and they do it with respect, and today we saw the consequences of when that doesn’t happen,” said McCollum at a press availability following the event. Continue Reading