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Citizens' Forum: Education
By Karen Louise Boothe
February 16, 1999
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Minnesotans had a chance to question Governor Jesse Ventura, and other state leaders, last night over issues of Education.

The Minnesota Citizens' Forum was broadcast on KTCA-TV and Minnesota Public Radio. It was also covered by the Star-Tribune newspaper. All three media outlets were sponsors of the event.

THE NUMBER ONE ISSUE ON THE MINDS OF CITIZENS participating in the statewide forum was the controversial "Profile of Learning",a graduation requirements test for grades nine through 12 that's being implemented by Minnesota schools. The new program requires students to complete numerous hands-on projects in various areas before they can earn their diploma.

But the state's plan has come under heavy fire from students, parents and teachers. Opponents say the state has intervened in what should be a set of standards created at the local level. Others say the heavy paperwork is a bureacratic nightmare. Last week, the House voted to scrap the mandated plan. House Speaker Steve Sviggum defends the vote.

Sviggum: This is not an either-or situation. "either-or" meaning you can have high standards, you can expect high standards for graduation, but we don't have to have the bureaucratic nightmare that has been placed upon our educators, our administrators and teachers and students of the state.
But Governor Ventura took a more moderate approach last night, saying he favors delaying the implementation of the plan, but not scrapping it.
Ventura: Well, I think the benefit of delaying it, is to back-off the fear of it. There seems to be a lot of fear out there that's being generated over this whole thing. And, I think the benefit of delaying it is to allow a second look at the bureaucracy, get some of the paperwork out of it, make it easier to implement it. If there's bad things in there, remove them.
Senate Majority Leader Roger Moe presides over a chamber that's more profile-friendly, and he agreed with Governor Ventura's position.
Moe: We ought to give the administration more time for implementation. That seems to be the issue right now, to work through this and, so, the Senate will certainly work with the administration, and the House, to see if we can keep high standards. I think that's the bottom-line I think people want and deserve high standards and I don't think we ought to retract on that.
State Education Commissioner Cristine Jax supports keeping the Profile of Learning intact, but also agrees to giving local-school districts more control. Jax favors withholding this year's test results from students' transcripts until the program gets overhauled.
Jax: Because while we're all fighting it out, we want to make sure they're not hurt. We're saying that students have to accomplish this in order to graduate and we haven't quite figured out what the "this" is.
Later, Governor Ventura drew applause when he committed more funding to reduce class size for the earliest years. He wants a ratio of 17 students for each teacher and talked about a test project in a Twin Cities district that, he says, produced great results.
Ventura: We heard from students, parents and teachers and they said how unbelievable this was, not only to the students scholastically but socially too. One little child stood up and said, "you know, before I was in a classroom of 27 kids" ,and she said "I got called upon 15 times a week, now at fifteen to one I get called on 15 times a day."
Ventura also advocates neighborhood schools, saying parental involvement is hampered when they have more than a half-hour commute between home and their child's school.

But the Governor was not above criticism. Maria Renee Grigsby of St.Paul said she was disappointed the Governor did not stay for the duration of the forum and, instead, opted to head to the Rolling Stones concert in Minneapolis. She says she wanted to hear his views on racial issues affecting most urban schools.
Grigsby: He has stated that he is color-blind at least when it comes to racial background. I would like to know how he will lead racially-equitable standards, a multi-cultural curriculum and the separate-but-equal neighborhood schools that may result if we go back to that. How will the racially-equitable treatment of all students be guaranteed by a color-blind governor?
Commissioner Jax handled the question in the Governor's absence, saying local control will allow for more relevant curriculum for the student body.
Jax: The whole color-blind comment, I mean, we need to meet children where children are and know what their needs are. In some situations their race and the treatment they've received because of their race is relevant and we ought to look into that. But, if ever there was an issue of local control, that is where that issue lies because no one can speak better to the situation than the people who are living it.
Ahead on the legislative track for the Profile of Learning program is a hearing in a Senate Education Committee before it goes to the full Senate for a vote. After that, it's headed for a conference committee where lawmakers are expected to argue over the controversial plan for weeks, before their differences can be worked out in time for final passage.

Karen Louise Boothe covers politics for Minnesota Public Radio. You can reach her at