In a matter of days, there will be a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court that will have significant ramifications for health care in the United States and Minnesota. The Supreme Court will issue its ruling on the Affordable Care Act, President Obama’s health care reform law. While the decision will likely generate further national debate, it’s important to acknowledge that the decision won’t change some basic facts about health care in Minnesota.
Minnesota has been a pioneer in health care for more than a century and, regardless of the Court’s decision, we will continue to be a national leader. We have taken a local, commonsense approach to improving the health of our communities, lowering cost through high quality care and providing affordable coverage in our state. No matter what the Court decides, Minnesotans already know how to collaborate to improve our health care system and move forward together, in the best interest of our state.
While Minnesota’s health care system does better overall compared to the rest of the country, we all still struggle with unsustainable health care costs and lack of access to care. More than 14 percent of our state economy is consumed by health care costs and even with this spending, nearly 490,000 Minnesotans are uninsured. The fear of unaffordable health care holds back entrepreneurs who want to set out on their own and keeps small businesses from new hiring or raising wages. If we don’t take action to address these concerns, the problems will only grow as Minnesota’s demographics change and our population ages.
This week, the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) released information about how schools across the state are doing. Unlike years past, this year, the ratings look a little different.
The ratings are based on a new accountability system – made possible with the approval of Minnesota’s No Child Left Behind (NLCB) waiver - that provides a better, fairer picture of how Minnesota schools are actually doing.
The new system is a vast improvement from the previous system, which measured schools solely based on a single high-stakes test to determine an Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) score. That limited snapshot resulted in a system that unfairly mislabeled and over labeled schools as failing – even schools that were performing at high levels.
Now, with the new Multiple Measurement Rating (MMR) system, schools will be evaluated on a number of equally measured criteria. MDE will take into consideration:
Proficiency - How are students scoring on state tests?
Student growth - How are students making progress toward their goals?
Achievement gap reduction – How are schools doing to close the performance gaps among groups of students?
Graduation rate – How many students are graduating from high school each year?
As part of Governor Mark Dayton’s Better Government for a Better Minnesota reform initiative, state government officials are turning their attention to the rising costs of higher education.
Last week, Governor Dayton, Senator Franken, and Office of Higher Education Director Larry Pogemiller met with students from around the state to discuss the challenges they face, including higher tuition costs and crippling student debt. At the same time, state higher education funding per student has fallen by 48% since 2000. Colleges are trying to educate students with far fewer resources, and many of the costs are now falling to students themselves. These obstacles are limiting Minnesota students’ educational opportunities and are making it more difficult for them to gain the education they need to succeed in the workforce.
After Monday’s meeting in Minneapolis, OHE Director Pogemiller toured the state to get feedback from other colleges. He traveled to Austin and Winona last week to discuss the rising costs of college for students. He stressed the need for the state to return higher education funding to historical levels to help students manage their costs. The Office of Higher Education already works to provide tips to current and prospective students on how they can lower the costs of a college education, and the department strives to improve the resources they offer.
A new report issued by the Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) showed that Minnesota employers added 6,200 jobs to the state economy in February, marking three consecutive months of job growth in Minnesota. This is an important milestone in Minnesota’s economic recovery. The state has already regained half the jobs it lost during the recession.
Education and Health Services was the leading sector in job creation, adding 5,100 jobs last month. Other areas posting strong job growth include the Government and Leisure and Hospitality sectors. "The labor market recovery appears to be gaining steam, with three consecutive months of strong job growth," said DEED Commissioner Mark Phillips. "The state has now recovered 81,400 jobs since the recession."
As part of Governor Mark Dayton’s Better Government for a Better Minnesota reform effort, the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry unveiled their new online license registration capability. The online program, called the ReNew system, will make the process of new license registrations and license renewals, faster, simpler, and more streamlined. This system will allow individuals to apply for or renew a license, certificate, or registration online.
“By using the ReNew licensing system, both renewals and initial applications submitted online can be processed a week faster than those submitted by mail,” said Labor and Industry Commissioner Ken Peterson. “Instead of mailing paper forms and checks for processing, online users can enter the necessary information, upload the required documents and pay their fee in a matter of minutes.”
Online users will benefit tremendously from this agency reform. They will be able to pay online, eliminating the hassle of possible payment complications like accidental overpayment or underpayment. Also, incomplete applications will be reviewed and processed more quickly, ensuring that applicants will not have the process hindered by a minor mistake. It will also eliminate wasted time and resources caused by delays in delivery and processing.
There was a lot of action this week at the Capitol, with legislative deadlines looming and important legislation on the move. However, there was also a lot of great work being done around government reform and improving services for all Minnesotans.
Today, the Governor stood with Department of Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius to celebrate yet another competitive federal grant award for MDE. Today’s grant money brings the total amount of new money won by the department under the Dayton administration to nearly $119 million. These reforms (and the funding we have won as a result) mean that our state’s schools continue to improve and that Minnesota is returning to a role as a national leader in education.
Earlier this week, Human Services Commissioner Cindy Jesson did a wonderful job of trumpeting her Department’s work to save taxpayers money while still ensuring that their programs serve Minnesotans well. The Department of Human Services has established a new Office of the Inspector General to root out waste and fraud in social service programs.
A year ago Governor Dayton ordered the Minnesota DNR and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency to ‘move at the speed of commerce.” The Governor signed an Executive Order directing agencies to accelerate their permitting process and make final permit decisions within 150 days. DNR and MPCA answered the call, at their year-end reporting deadline both agencies have issued and approved 99% of their permits in less than 150 days; many of the determinations were made within just a few weeks.
The DNR and MPCA are responsible for handling between 3,000 and 5,000 permits annually, reviewing construction and expansion projects and protecting Minnesota's natural resources and environment. However, lengthy review processes can slow down growth and create headaches for businesses. To resolve this problem, Gov. Dayton directed the MPCA and DNR to accelerate and simplify their permitting process in order to allow more rapid business expansion and job creation. He asked the agencies to make permit decisions within 150 days and expedite the application process by allowing electronic filing. The State Legislature followed the Governor's lead, making the order law during the 2011 legislative session.
That commitment is paying off. Today, Minneapolis / St. Paul Business Journal reported some of the successes of the state’s partnerships with the business community:
To date, the state has trained more than 5,000 employees from 23 state agencies, 20 counties and four cities through its lean-management program. It also has hosted roughly 250 “kaisen” events where government employees come together to brainstorm problems and ideas for how to fix them. Officials estimate that each meeting generates $90,000 in savings, primarily by eliminating needless work for staffers — a projection that would put the total savings at approximately $22.5 million over the life of the program.