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Capitol Chatter: Little money available for pre-kindergarten classrooms

ST. PAUL -- Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton wants to increase education spending $77 million in the next year, mostly for his plan to offer classes for 4-year-olds.But there is a catch. Many school officials say they are running out of room, especiall...

ST. PAUL - Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton wants to increase education spending $77 million in the next year, mostly for his plan to offer classes for 4-year-olds.
But there is a catch. Many school officials say they are running out of room, especially after lawmakers last year passed a Dayton proposal to expand kindergarten to full days.
If Dayton's new pre-kindergarten program is approved, schools would need to fund any expansion they need themselves.
“We could not squeeze it into this,” Dayton said.
While Commissioner Myron Frans of Minnesota Management and Budget said that Dayton's public works funding proposal contains $20 million for school expansion, that is not enough money to allow all schools that want classrooms built for 4-year-olds. Also, Republicans strongly oppose his $1.4 billion total public works plan, so the $20 million might not survive.
Dayton said that while he would like to help schools fund expansion, “we are signaling school districts ... this is something that is going to happen in Minnesota.” In other words, they need to find the money.
One of the areas Dayton wants to target with early-childhood funding is where poverty dominates. But that also is where schools have the fewest resources to expand buildings to accommodate more classes.
“It's a very valid point,” Dayton said when Forum News Service asked him how schools in poverty-stricken areas can afford new classrooms. “We will work with school districts.”
Broadband: How much money?
The question of how much money is needed to fund high-speed Internet expansion is not getting a high-speed answer.
Gov. Mark Dayton called for $100 million as a step toward reaching his goal of every Minnesotan having a broadband connection. A strong House broadband supporter, Republican Rep. Dave Baker of Willmar, brought up a bill providing $35 million.
Either is more than the $10 million approved a year ago, but arguments abound about the proper level.
“We need to put our money where our rhetoric is about broadband,” Dayton said.
The $100 million he wants would not have to be spent in the next year, the governor said, but if money remains, it could be used to expand broadband later.
A House committee has approved Baker’s $35 million request, but several steps remain before the money could become available.
Witnesses told the committee that without real-time access to information, rural Minnesotans are at a disadvantage. Many people in rural areas say they need to drive to a library, McDonald’s or other location to get high-speed Internet service.
“High-speed Internet has become more than a luxury; it’s a utility that we need and require,” said Travis Bonnema, manager of technical services for Jennie-O Turkey Store headquartered in Willmar.
Cyber security a concern
A surprise in Gov. Mark Dayton’s budget proposal was $46 million to improve security of the state’s computers.
It is an issue that has not been much discussed in public.
“There are millions of threats every day, attempts to hack into one of the various state systems,” the governor said.
Ironically, a couple of days later, Cloquet schools canceled classes after a computer malware attack.
A variant of the CryptoLocker ransomware resulted in school technology staff being forced to erase everything from many school computers, which resulted in the loss of data. No data were stolen, but malware corrupted files so they are not usable.
The same, or worse, could happen to state computers.
Besides the state needs, the University of Minnesota seeks $19 million to protect its computers.
“It is one of the infrastructure issues that has not been addressed recently,” Commissioner Myron Frans of Minnesota Management and Budget said.
Dayton and Frans said a related problem also needs to be corrected: Many state computer systems are old and cannot communicate with each other.
“We have a lot of catching up to do,” Dayton said.
Emergency center funds sought
The Minnesota Emergency Operations Center is in a secure and secret location in downtown St. Paul.
Or so officials thought.
In asking for $33 million to establish a new center, state officials revealed that two years ago a person was found sleeping in one of the center’s conference rooms.
Gov. Mark Dayton folded the $33 million request into his $1.4 billion hope for public works projects ranging from fixing state building roofs to buying park land. It is not the first time a public works spending bill sought a new Emergency Operations Center, where state officials huddle during emergencies ranging from flooding to nuclear power plant malfunctions.
Joe Kelly, Homeland Security Division director, said the downtown center is “wholly failing to meet the industry standards.”
A new center would be constructed in suburban Arden Hills.
Senator grounded
A Senate committee heard about the dangers of thieves being electrocuted when they try to break into electrical substations.
The issue is that people steal copper, which is used to ground fences and other items in a substation.
Showing he knows something about electricity, Sen. Ron Latz, D-St. Louis Park, explained: “The person could become the ground, and later end up under the ground.”
Don Davis covers Minnesota government and politics for Forum News Service. Read his blog at http://capitolchat.areavoices.com/ and follow him on Twitter at @CapitolChatter.

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