The children of Southeast Minnesota are our greatest asset. Their future is crucially dependent on the educational opportunities they are provided. Fully funded preschool and K-12 education will ensure we cultivate the bright minds needed to keep our region competitive and flourishing. Minnesota is ranked as one of the best states in the nation for education. Maintaining this achievement should be paramount because its far-reaching effects ripple into all aspects of society.
Early Childhood Education
Early learning opportunities provide the foundation upon which all students build their future. Access to early childhood education has been proven to significantly bridge achievement gaps. Multiple studies show that the achievement gap widens as students move through grade levels. Without fully funded early childhood education, not all students are provided the chance begin their K-12 schooling on equal footing. Permanent state funding needs to be secured for preschool for all children in Minnesota. I will work arduously to make sure that every child has access to a strong educational start.
Well-funded K-12 programing provides numerous benefits to our children and society. It equips students with the essential academic preparation that incorporates the technological knowledge needed in our rapidly evolving global economy. It provides them with a setting in which to develop socially and emotionally to become happy and productive members of society. Most importantly, it cultivates in them a passion for life-long learning. As such, our teachers have one of the most important roles in our communities. The recruitment, professional development, and retention of educators needs to be at the forefront of our educational planning in Minnesota. I will listen to teachers’ and families’ ideas surrounding the creation and funding of educational programming. Teachers’ advice must be given serious consideration when determining the most effective use of tax dollars in their classrooms. When our state supports educators with the resources they need to succeed, our students can achieve their full potential.
Our schools deserve a state funding system that does not require school districts to continually put forth referendums to raise money. Moreover, vouchers are not the answer to the economic issues facing public schools; funding public schools is the answer. I oppose vouchers because I believe they are in direct violation of the separation of church and state. They take money away from our struggling public schools, they have been shown to negatively impact student academic performance, and they often place special needs students at a disadvantage. Student achievement should be the driving force behind any education reform initiative.
Investment in our public school systems can be used for a variety of services to benefit our communities at large, thereby increasing the return on taxpayer dollars. Our schools are being asked to provide additional resources to students and their families. A solution can be found in full-service community schools that form a partnership with the local community by integrating academics, family support, health and social services, and community development. Resources at our public schools are currently being stretched very thin to manage many areas, particularly to meet students’ mental health needs. Having more funding to do so effectively reaps long-term benefits that go far beyond a person’s school years. Seeing the link between a supported public school system and a healthy community is therefore critical.
We are incredibly fortunate to have three institutions of higher education in our corner of the state: Minnesota State College Southeast, St. Mary’s University, and Winona State University. These institutions provide a wealth of resources to the students who have the privilege of attending them and to our communities in general. These campuses need the flexibility to meet the changing needs of the future. To ensure the strong educational, economic and cultural contributions of these institutions amid shifting demographics, I will advocate for greater campus autonomy for our public college and university. Local determination of academic programming that is responsive to the specialized industries and needs of our region is essential.
Post-secondary education should not result in unreasonable debt. How are young people and non-traditional students expected to take on tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt with unreasonable interest payments? Student debt is a direct result of the state’s failure to keep its promise to fund two-thirds of the costs of higher education. Bonding has provided great resources for local higher education capital projects; however, it does not address the debt load that students take on for tuition and expenses. In years past, Minnesota state colleges and universities were affordable centers of education. Now, their costly tuition is prohibitive to many individuals and families. Investing in education yields the highest returns for our communities. We must be willing to guarantee access through affordability.
Now more than ever, Minnesotans need affordable health care that is accessible to everyone. Simply put, no one should have to choose between buying groceries for the week or paying for a day’s worth of prescription medication. No one should have to decide between receiving treatment for a chronic illness or paying their mortgage. We live in the wealthiest nation in the world, and these are not acceptable dilemmas. All residents of Southeast Minnesota deserve access to adequate and affordable health care and prescription drugs. Placing the financial gains of insurance and pharmaceutical companies above people’s wellbeing is unconscionable. It’s also unnecessary.
Minnesota has been a national leader in expanding coverage and access to health care. As a result, we boast one of the highest rates of insurance coverage in the nation at 94%. However, the cost of this coverage has spiraled out of control. In 1998, $16 billion was spent on health care in the state of Minnesota, and family premiums for health insurance were approximately $5,000 per household. Nearly 20 years later, these numbers tripled. In 2017, over $50 billion was spent in the state of Minnesota on health care, and families spent over $19,000 annually on premium payments, not including their out of pocket expenses such as deductibles and co-pays. If we continue down this path, by 2027, as a state we will be spending nearly $98 billion on health care, with family premiums reaching $35,000 per year. Healthcare prices are rising faster than our economy is growing.
There are multiple factors contributing to the exponential growth in healthcare costs and spending. These causes include innovations in medical technology and administrative costs. However, other drivers of the steep increase in costs are the numerous mergers in the healthcare industry that have stifled competition, provider control of healthcare pricing, and patent protections on key drugs. I will work hard to engage our local healthcare providers and insurance companies in inclusive solutions that lower patient costs. This does not mean eliminating private insurance but rather preventing healthcare providers, insurance companies, and pharmaceutical companies from forming regional monopolies in our state. This way, a stronger free market is established for private insurance and healthcare delivery, allowing for the creation of more and better options. People need choices to decide what works best for them, their individual healthcare needs, and those of their families.
We are all susceptible to poor health, and the proper treatment of an illness or condition should never be determined by the amount of money in our bank accounts. Minnesota’s Medicaid program, Medical Assistance, needs to be protected and well-funded for people in low-income brackets. The Health Care Access Fund (HCAF) is responsible for funding Medicaid, MinnesotaCare, and other public assistance programs. This year, the two percent provider tax that funds HCAF is set to expire, leaving a hole in the Medical Assistance budget. Without the revenue, HCAF will not be able to continue operating at its current capacity. I will support the proper funding of this much needed program.
Many individuals and their families earn just above the limit for Medical Assistance but cannot realistically afford private health insurance. These hard-working Minnesotans go uninsured, delay or forego care, and are unable to pay medical bills. According to a state report, over one-third of Minnesotans have delayed medical treatment because of the cost they would have to pay. One-half of those who delayed treatment had a serious or somewhat serious condition or illness.
Similarly, there are many small business owners in Minnesota who are uninsured and who cannot afford to offer health insurance to their employees. Not only does this put their health at risk, it places their businesses at a disadvantage as compared to larger companies that can afford to offer benefits and paid leave. Hard working people and their families should not be shouldering the burden of an unfair system, and local businesses should not be put at an economic disadvantage. A public option for these individuals to buy into MinnesotaCare would tremendously alleviate this economic strain.
It’s important to recognize that there is no silver bullet to fix these issues. However, the answer to addressing the rising costs of our complex healthcare system can be found in working productively with healthcare providers, insurance companies, and pharmaceutical companies to affect better solutions. As a state, it’s critical that we properly invest in preventative and wellness care—including public health and social supports—focusing on what keeps people healthy. Second, we need innovative approaches that will change the way the system currently operates. Third, we need to make sure that any changes we make are supported by data that demonstrates cost reduction. I will work so that all residents of Southeast Minnesota have access to the health care they need.
The COVID-19 outbreak has demonstrated just how important a healthy community is to our economic wellbeing. Our incredible healthcare professionals and emergency responders across the state are putting their health in jeopardy to save lives, and their dedication is heroic. This pandemic has magnified the fault lines in many state healthcare systems when it comes to preparedness and protecting these professionals. It has laid bare the disparities in access to treatment for many individuals who have fallen ill. The lack of federal leadership on this public health emergency has required states to manage this crisis largely on their own. The steps that Minnesota has taken over the years to expand coverage and access to health care is saving lives. As a state, we must continue to make sure everyone who needs treatment can afford access.
Farming is the backbone of our economy in Southeast Minnesota, and we all have a stake in making sure that our farmers have the resources they need to profitably produce food that can be sourced in local and regional markets. The agriculture industry contributes $75 billion to the state’s economy annually. However, for the past five years, there have been record low levels of profitability for Minnesota farms with many farmers losing money on their crops and/or livestock. The difficult economic situation facing many farmers in our area has been exacerbated by decisions made on the federal level, such as trade policies. Our Minnesota legislature must work diligently to provide our farmers with the necessary resources to alleviate these hardships.
Farmers are experiencing their lowest income levels since the 1980s. Adjusting for inflation, in 2018 median Minnesota farm income fell to its lowest point in 23 years. In 2018, the median net income was $26,055—down 8% from the previous year—with farmers in the bottom 20% losing nearly $72,000. Minnesota farmers continued to struggle with low profits in 2019. Though up slightly from the previous year—the median net farm income was $36,211—gains were marginal at best. Last year in Minnesota, 28% of farms lost money, 46% did not earn enough to make debt payments, and 45% saw a decline in working capital.
Many hard-working farm families are living an unsustainable situation in which they are unable to earn back the money that it takes to produce the milk, meat, or crops that are their livelihood. This string of difficult years has grave financial implications for farmers, their families, and our rural communities. Dairy farms have been hit particularly hard. Over-production and trade issues have impacted milk prices, causing many dairy farmers in our area to sell their herds. These kinds of difficulties are not only felt financially but emotionally and psychologically as well. As such, access to affordable health care that is inclusive of mental health and suicide prevention support needs to be made readily available in our farming communities.
Affordable health care is a critical concern for Minnesota farmers, particularly the steep hike in premiums and escalating deductibles. Farmers need to be able to buy reasonably priced plans because healthcare costs overwhelm their individual family budgets and strain farm operation costs. Many farmers are concerned about the financial impact a major illness or injury would have on their ability to continue farming. Making health care affordable is vital so that those costs can be more easily integrated into farmers’ business and risk management planning. Furthermore, 82% of Minnesota farmers are over the age of 45, and an aging population is more prone to health conditions that require costly care. Farms should be on a similar playing field with other small businesses for accessing group insurance at more reasonable rates. Furthermore, a public option for farmers to buy into MinnesotaCare would be a tremendous step toward alleviating this economic strain.
As businesses owners, Minnesota farmers need high-speed internet access to remain competitive in an increasingly technology-reliant industry. Expanding rural broadband produces strong economic benefits for our area. Broadband access will help farmers maintain competitive business operations, thereby expanding opportunities for young farmers and maintaining family farms for generations to come.
Due to the economic hardships facing farmers, I support lowering property taxes on farm by expanding the School Building Bond Agriculture Credit (Ag2School). We need to continue to shift the funding of public K-12 education from being heavily reliant upon property taxes to a state funding formula. This not only lightens the financial burden on farmers, but also improves the school districts their children and grandchildren attend. When 70% of the total income of farm families comes from off-farm sources, the financial costs of education should not be placed on the shoulders of struggling families.
Making economic troubles even more challenging, Minnesota farmers have begun facing the effects of a changing climate. Our farmers need support to adapt to an environment with unpredictable weather patterns. Rural landowners can be partners in attempting to reduce the worst effects of climate change. Training and funding for practices such as no-till farming, cover cropping, and diverse crop rotations must be made easily accessible to farmers.
Farmers cannot continue to struggle to survive in the manner they’ve been forced to over the past several years. A comprehensive approach is required to address our farm crisis: access to affordable health care for farmers and their families; increased broadband service to rural areas; incentives to utilize farming practices that address climate change; and investment in programs that provide access to new markets, including niche markets that can diversify the farm economy. The farm crisis is complex and will require multifaceted solutions.
The agriculture sector provides more than 340,000 jobs for Minnesotans. This is an industry we all rely on. Farmers work hard to make sure our families have food on the table. Our legislature should work equally hard to make sure farm families can have a successful and secure future.