Providing federal money for local special education is a top priority, U.S. Rep. Angie Craig said during a visit to Burnsville Alternative High School in Eagan on the first day of the school year Tuesday.
The House Democrat met with students and staff and spoke about special education funding, gun policy and the cost of post-high-school education and training while visiting several classrooms alongside Burnsville-Eagan-Savage District Superintendent Theresa Battle and Principal Kelly Ronn.
Craig is a mother of four, including one son who receives special education services.
The Burnsville-Eagan-Savage District spends about $12 million annually from the district’s general fund to cover the cost of federally-mandated special education services, Battle said. District leaders have said the gap has partly caused the millions of dollars in spending cuts on teachers, athletics and other programs in recent years.
Craig said the gap affects all students and taxpayers because districts need to ask for operating levies to ease the financial strain, which also pulls away from other student support services such as school counselors.
“The federal government is not sending all the money that Minnesota taxpayers send to Washington back to Minnesota in the form of an investment,” she said.
Craig said more affordable health care, climate change and gun reform are some of the national issues she’s working to address in Washington.
“If all of you have an issue you’re passionate about — whatever that is — whether that’s immigration reform, or gun safety or special education, whatever it is, realize that you really do have an opportunity to impact the direction of this country,” Craig told students.
Craig said more affordable health care, climate change and gun reform are some of the other national issues she’s working to address in Washington.
Craig shared with students how she grew up in a mobile home court with her single mother and two siblings. Craig narrowly lost the 2016 election but “didn’t give up” and won the seat in 2018.
The election marked a historic year for electing female newcomers to Congress; 102 seats out of 435 are now occupied by women, she said.
Craig also answered several questions in a brief interview with the Savage Pacer. Her answers have been edited for clarity and length.
Q: What do you think could be done to improve school safety?
A: We’ve got a bill out there, the Rebuilding America’s Schools Act, and that would provide some increased funding for security and safety, but I’m a broader advocate for gun reform in this country.
I just think there are some common-sense things we should do — universal background checks is a no-brainer, closing the Charleston loophole.
I just sent to of our kids back to college, and our youngest went back to high school today. I know there will be an active shooter drills going on this school year for my kids.
As my son Jacob left to go back to college, right after the shootings in Texas, not the most recent ones but the ones before that, he looked me in the eye and said, “Mom, you’re a member of Congress. You need to do something about this. You have to fight so I can stop being afraid to go to school.”
Q: A big topic right now is student loan forgiveness and free college for all. What are your views on post-secondary financing?
A: I tend to fall in the ‘we need to increase Pell Grants for our neediest students’ category, along with rethinking our post-secondary education system.
I favor two years of state college, or a technical degree or an apprenticeship program. We should be thinking more broadly about traditional four-year college, so the first two years of that under my plan would be provided if you go to a state school, and that would also include technical school and other trade routes for students.
I think we’ve got to make sure kids know four years is not the only path, and we need to do a better job of presenting that as an opportunity.
I also worked in business for 20 years, and I don’t think students should pay higher interest rates than our businesses paid on our debt. So reducing the interest rates our students our paying is another focus of mine.