Nearly 400,000 military veterans call Minnesota home. We are proud to have them. Our veterans have bravely answered the call to service. From the Battle of Gettysburg to Iraq and Afghanistan, Minnesotans have fought to protect our country and our freedoms. Many of Minnesota’s veterans don’t stop serving when they leave the military either.
In 2013, Governor Mark Dayton signed new legislation to help our veterans make the transition. The new reform makes it easier for active duty service members to transition into jobs on the police force. The bill allows military service members to take a police officer reciprocity exam while they are on active duty. Previously, service members were only allowed to take the reciprocity exam after they were honorably discharged. This change allows men and women in the Armed Forces to move into civilian service without a long delay in employment.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than half of all Americans live with a preventable chronic disease, and many such diseases are related to obesity, poor nutrition, and physical exercise. A recent study found Minnesotans could save more than $4 billion during the next ten years, if our average Body Mass Index decreased by five percent. And right now, unhealthy lifestyles come with a price – costing Minnesotans nearly $6 billion in yearly medical costs.
Continuing the effort to improve the health of Minnesotans, and reduce health care costs through low-cost, preventive measures, the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) has awarded more than $21.2 million in Statewide Health Improvement Program (SHIP) grants to counties and cities across Minnesota. The grants will be used by communities – in partnership with local businesses, schools, and local governments – to implement projects and programs that will promote exercise and physical activity, improve nutrition, and decrease tobacco use. “The Statewide Health Improvement Program helps win the fight against both chronic diseases and rising health care costs,” said Governor Mark Dayton. “By supporting preventive health measures and encouraging Minnesotans to make healthy choices, our state can realize significant health care savings and help people of all ages live healthier, more fulfilling lives.”
The new grant awards announced this week come after Governor Mark Dayton and the Minnesota Legislature restored funding for the SHIP initiative during the 2013 Legislative Session. Funding for the program had been cut by nearly 70 percent, forcing the Health Department to offer the grants in only about half of the state. But the new state budget signed into law this spring increased SHIP funding by $20 million, restoring the opportunity for communities statewide to participate in the program. This additional funding allowed 25 more counties to receive SHIP funding.
Commissioner Katie Clark Sieben unveiled the new Made in Minnesota directory at Vee Corp, a Minnesota company where "Seasame Street Live" characters are made.
This week, Governor Dayton issued a proclamation declaring this week “Minnesota Manufacturers Week” – highlighting the importance of an industry that employs one out of every nine workers in Minnesota. To feature products and supplies manufactured in the state, DEED unveiled a new online Made in Minnesota Directory to encourage Minnesota businesses to buy products and supplies from each other, rather than from out-of-state or foreign companies. The tool contains details about nearly 600 manufactures statewide.
Businesses can use the database to find Minnesota manufacturers who make everything from food products to textiles, fabricated metals, machinery, and computers and electronics. The directory, which is available online at www.tinyurl.com/MadeinMinnesotaDirectory, is arranged so that users can search by product, company name or county.
Salaries in the sector are much higher than most other industries in the state because many manufacturing jobs require high-tech skills to operate advanced technology and computer-controlled equipment. The average manufacturing position in the state paid $58,760 last year, about $10,000 more than the typical job in Minnesota.
Throughout the week, tours of manufacturing facilities around the state and other activities are planned in recognition of Minnesota Manufacturers Week. Besides plant tours, other events during the week include speakers, educational activities and the unveiling of the new Made in Minnesota Directory of manufacturers and suppliers.
Photo Content: Flickr User Pete Sieger; Normandale Community College
We all know that education is critical to a bright future. In fact, by 2018 an estimated 70 percent of Minnesota jobs will require some education beyond high school. And right now, only 40 percent of Minnesotans hold postsecondary degrees. Closing this higher education gap is critical to helping all Minnesotans get great jobs in the future and growing our economy.
However, the rising cost of higher education is putting college out of reach for many. Right now, Minnesota had the third highest student debt rate in the United States with the average graduate leaving school with $29,800 in debt. This year, Governor Mark Dayton and the DFL legislature improved Minnesota’s State Grant Program to help all of our students get an affordable education.
Previously, part-time college student who also worked received a smaller grant than they would have otherwise. Under the new requirements, part-time students taking three or more credits will be eligible for the State Grant Program. This improvement is particularly beneficial for non-traditional college students who are more likely to be older, have a family, or other responsibilities that keep them from attending school full-time.
In addition to reforming the State Grant Program, the Governor and the legislature invested $46 million more into direct financial aid. This will significantly increase support for all college students during the next two years. In all, these new investments and reforms should Minnesota students get a more affordable education as they return to campus.
A local farmer picks collard greens from a school garden at Hopkins West Junior High.
This Op/Ed originally appeared in the St. Cloud Times on October 12, 2013. By Commissioners Dave Frederickson, Department of Agriculture; Brenda Cassellius, Department of Education; Edward Ehlinger, Department of Health.
Remember those thick slabs of greasy pizza from the school cafeterias of your childhood? How about the frozen processed-chicken nuggets or the popular “shake-and-French-fry” line? The food we serve our students at school shouldn’t look this way, and as schools in many parts of Minnesota know today, it doesn’t have to.
More than 145 school districts in Minnesota have taken part in Farm to School programs that connect schools and local farms to serve healthful meals in school cafeterias, improve student nutrition, provide agriculture, health and nutrition education opportunities, and support local and regional farmers. In fact, 68 percent of Minnesota’s K-12 population attends a school that is involved in Farm to School in one way or another. Still, there is much more that can be done.
Research has demonstrated students learn better when they’re well nourished. Healthful eating has been linked to higher grades, better memory, more alertness and improved health, leading to better school attendance. The choice of healthier options through Farm to School meals results in consumption of more fruits and vegetables in the school cafeteria and at home.
This should come as no surprise: Farm-fresh products taste better, and it has been shown that children prefer them. Schools report up to a 16 percent increase in school meal participation when farm-fresh food is served. At a recent visit to schools participating in Farm to School programs, we saw students with plates heaping with fresh strawberries, cucumbers, Brussels sprouts and tomatoes that might have still been warm from the sun shining over the garden where they were picked.
Students even get to know some of the local farmers who provide foods to the schools. Think about the unique learning opportunities that come with knowing who has grown the food that is on your plate. Then consider: should this experience be so unique?