EAST GULL LAKE - Gov. Tim Pawlenty on Thursday described the Brainerd Lakes Chamber's education initiative as "nation-leading" and expressed disappointment the Legislature has only "symbolically funded it" at this point.
"It's very visionary," he told the crowd of more than 300 at the chamber's spring celebration at The Legacy at Cragun's.
The Bridges Academy and Workplace Connection, a pilot partnership that would include the chamber, Central Lakes College, five area school districts and area businesses is designed to give high school juniors and seniors rigorous courses that focus on career paths toward high-demand and high-paying jobs. Participating school districts are Brainerd, Crosby-Ironton, Pequot Lakes, Pillager and Staples-Motley.
While attempts for language that would specifically earmark $1.6 million for a three-year project have apparently failed, members of the chamber's Workforce Committee said they're hopeful money will be available for the program when the conference committee completes work on the kindergarten-12 education bill.
Sandy Voigt (left) of the Initiative Foundation and Shawn Hunstad of Stern Industries listened as Gov. Tim Pawlenty ordered a beverage at the Brainerd Lakes Chamber spring celebration Thursday at The Legacy at Cragun's. Brainerd Dispatch/Steve Kohls » Purchase reprints of this photo.
Sen. Paul Koering, R-Fort Ripley, and a spokesman for Rep. John Ward, said Thursday they were hopeful money would be available in the bill. Koering said that as of Thursday morning, the conference committee had not yet learned how much money would be available.
The Brainerd area education initiative blended into the theme of Pawlenty's speech, which emphasized how strategically important it was for Minnesota to position itself to compete with worldwide markets.
Employees in other countries, he said, are directing more students toward higher education in science and math, he said, and they work for 10 cents on the dollar compared to what Americans earn.
"We have to make sure we position ourselves to succeed in a changing world," Pawlenty said.
The governor said the U.S. high school dropout rate was alarming, particularly since high school dropouts have a 60 percent chance of ending up in the criminal justice system. It's hard to compete against the rest of the world, Pawlenty said, "when you leave one-third of our team on the bench."
Chamber unveils its new name
It's now the Brainerd Lakes Chamber.
Chamber officials unveiled the new name or "branding" along with a new logo at a spring celebration Thursday at The Legacy at Cragun's. It was formerly the Brainerd Lakes Area Chambers of Commerce.
The new logo consists of blue water and the words "Connect. Lead. Grow."
Details on what's behind the name change and the logo will be featured in Sunday's Brainerd Dispatch business section.
The No. 1 factor determining student success, he said, was involved parents.
"I wish I could wave a magic wand and legislate good parents," Pawlenty said. "If you don't graduate from high school ... you're in deep doo-doo in this economy."
The governor quoted Bill Gates as saying the U.S. high school structure is obsolete, despite the sizable amount of money that's invested in it. Student achievement in U.S. high schools is flat-lining, according to Pawlenty, and many of the students demonstrate the effects of that failure.
"They're bored," he said. "They're coasting."
He advocated performance pay for teachers rather than a seniority scale, noting that 85 percent of education costs go to personnel.
After his speech, Pawlenty listened to an update from the chamber's Workforce Committee at The Legacy and said he would do what he could to help the panel's efforts.
"This is very consistent with what we want to accomplish," he said of Bridges Academy and the Workplace Connection. "This could really be a showplace opportunity."
Committee members reported to Pawlenty that:
Seventeen high school instructors from five participating high schools have been named as teachers for Bridges Academy, with 12 of the 17 already approved through CLC's concurrent enrollment approval process.
Across the five school districts, 700 students have requested enrollment in the academy for next year. The breakdown is: engineering (210), business and administration (110), health science and nursing (264) and manufacturing technology (126).
Although considerable student interest was generated on short notice, no students registered for "Introduction to Manufacturing."
Committee members emphasized that state assistance was needed to establish the connection between the program and the workplace.
Larry Lundblad, CLC president, said Bridges Academy was just a starting point and reported an excellent response to the concept from his faculty and staff.
Earlier at The Legacy, in his remarks to the chamber group, Pawlenty covered a wide variety of state topics:
Health care - The health care system largely works with consumers who have little knowledge about either cost or quality.
Energy - Renewable energy must be encouraged to relieve our addiction to foreign oil. "We're going to innovate our way out of this," he said.
Economy - A thriving, robust private sector is needed to accomplish Minnesota's goals. "We can't government our way to security," Pawlenty said.
Transportation - Little has been done in transportation in the last 20 years. He said polls show little support for a gas tax and two-thirds of the respondents supported his opposition to it. Pawlenty said critics ask if he is asking children to pay for highways through bonding. "Yeah, I am," he said. "They're going to be driving on them. I'm OK with saying my 14-year-old daughter is going to be paying for some roads."
MIKE O'ROURKE may be reached at email@example.com or 855-5860.
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