Some good news: Three initiatives likely to pass that will help Minnesota

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In the spirit of Easter, Capitol Watch would like to highlight three proposals likely to pass this session that will help Minnesotans and make the state a better place to live. We’ve written a lot about bad policy this session — it’s time to focus on the positive.

Met Council reform

Last year American Experiment awarded the first ever Golden Turkey Lifetime Achievement award to the disastrous Southwest Light Rail debacle. The project is such a mess that Minnesota Democrats are finally moving to hold the Metropolitan Council accountable. They must be reading our stuff!

Sen. Scott Dibble and Rep. Frank Hornstein chair the Senate and House Transportation Committees and both have sponsored legislation to reform the Met Council. Hornstein would create a task force to study a new structure while Dibble’s bill would change the board from appointed by the governor to elected by the people.

American Experiment has been a long and frequent critic of the Met Council including devoting a chapter to reform in our 2015 Minnesota Policy Blueprint titled Met Council Power Grab: How the Dayton Administration Intends to Transform the Twin City Region for Decade toCome.

Rampant crime on the Met Council’s transit system is also pushing legislators towards reform. As we detailed here, Met Council Chair Charlie Zelle has been on the hotseat lately for his mismanagement of Southwest Light Rail and rising crime. Perhaps this is the year for real Met Council reform.

Literacy reform based on the science of reading

In today’s hyper-partisan world, it’s hard for one side or the other to give up on a policy position, even in the face of overwhelming evidence. When it comes to how we teach kids to read, the Left is finally coming around to the fact that their way isn’t working.

In Minnesota, 49 percent of Minnesota students statewide aren’t proficient in reading, according to the state’s Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment (MCA). On national assessments, the average reading scores for Minnesota fourth- and eighth-grade students are the lowest they have ever been since the 1990s.

It took a really good piece of journalism from a public radio news organization to give liberals across the country permission to distance themselves from the “whole language” method of reading, where students learn to read using context clues from pictures or the arc of the story.

The good news is, Democrats in Minnesota are also talking about abandoning whole language practices in favor of phonics, known as the science of reading. If you see funding for a program called Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spelling or LETRS, you will know we are moving in the direction of the science of reading.

As my colleague Catrin Wigfall explains here though, things really won’t improve until we make sure the colleges that train our teachers are adopting these researched-backed methods. But there are reasons for optimism when it comes to literacy instruction in Minnesota.

Adding an Inspector General at the Department of Education

It may be too little too late now that we’ve lost $500 million in the Feeding Our Future scandal, but a Walz administration proposal to add ten new employees at the Minnesota Department of Education for an office of Inspector General is still a good idea. In fact, it’s such a good idea he should also revamp the IG office at the Department of Human Services, making it external to the agency so they can actually hold people accountable for fraud.

The budget narrative for the Walz inspector general proposal is a lesson in CYA government-speak.

Rationale/Background: Under current state and federal laws and regulations, the only mechanism MDE has to investigate potential fraud in federal nutrition programs is by notifying the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA ) OIG (see 7 CFR 226.6(n)) . MDE notified federal partners in fall of 2020 with concerns about the unprecedented and unexplained growth of Feeding Our Future and Partners in Nutrition in the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP ) and Summer Food Service Program (SFSP ). However, federal investigators did not act on that information which resulted in months passing before the FBI began their investigation.

Some large state agencies, namely the Minnesota Department of Human Services, have a state agency -level Office of the Inspector General that investigates fraud and other wrongdoing within its programs. If MDE had a state – level OIG of its own, it is possible MDE could have found evidence of fraud that would have been sufficient to terminate Feeding Our Future from their program much earlier.

It was the lack of a state-based inspector general that caused all that food money to go out the door, according to Walz. If only we had an inspector general, we could have found the fraud sooner. It was the fed’s fault. Yeah, that’s right. It was Donald Trump’s fault.

Nevertheless, an internal inspector general office at state agencies is still a good idea, although they could probably do it with three employees instead of ten.

A new idea

Speaking of government accountability, American Experiment’s own Bill Glahn recently put forward a proposal to create two classes of non-profits in Minnesota for better accountability. The first class would include non-profits that receive federal or state funding. They would be called Non Government Organizations (NGOs), and would be subject to greater scrutiny and accountability from the Attorney General’s office. The second class would include regular non-profits like Center of the American Experiment, who receive no government money and are accountable mainly to donors. As we saw in Feeding Our Future, new non-profits sprang up overnight and were difficult to track and hold accountable until millions were wasted or stolen. Watch for this idea to appear on American Experiment’s next legislative agenda.

As we end Easter and Passover week in Minnesota, it’s good to have some hope that not everything happening in St. Paul will take the state backwards. That plus a few days of 60 degree temperatures is enough to give anyone optimism for the future.

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