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Education reform deadline extended

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ST. PAUL -- Minnesota lawmakers broke a deadline for reforming education by about two weeks, but that no longer matters.

House Education Finance Chairwoman Mindy Greiling, DFL-Roseville, said on Tuesday that the Pawlenty administration extended that deadline through early next week. If lawmakers pass sufficient education reform measures by the time they adjourn for the year on Monday, the state Education Department will update its application for federal Race to the Top funds, which could reach $175 million.

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Gov. Tim Pawlenty has said he will not apply for the funds unless lawmakers make enough changes, such as establishing an easier pathway for mid-career professionals to become teachers and for teachers to be assessed based on student achievement.

Greiling's education bill, stalled in recent days, includes some of the reform Pawlenty and Education Commissioner Alice Seagren sought.

"I do believe we have enough in here ... that should enable us to be in contention for the Race to the Top," Greiling said.

Greiling admitted that Pawlenty would not like the entire bill, including preventing the state from borrowing money from education funds to balance the budget.

In some ways, she added, a Senate version of the bill would be more attractive to Pawlenty. A conference committee would work out differences between the bills if they pass this legislative session.

Seagren had said she needed to know by May 1 what reform measures were going to pass the Legislature before deciding whether to pursue Race to the Top funds. Greiling said Seagren extended the deadline to Monday through the end of the legislative session.

No animal harm

A newly enacted law penalizes people who attack service animals.

The law expands current law to make it illegal to hurt animals so they no longer can perform their functions, such as helping blind or otherwise handicapped people.

"I wish we didn't need this type of law at all, but sadly, an unfortunate incident in Minneapolis last fall reminded us how important it is to protect these types of animals and their families," said Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis.

Safety glass needed

Schools would be required to install safety glass in new school buildings under a provision tucked into a Senate education bill awaiting final action.

The idea by Sen. Katie Sieben, DFL-Cottage Grove, would only require considering the stronger glass that is less likely to shatter.

"This is not a mandate on our schools," Sieben said. "Instead, it's a way to let districts know that laminated glass is a good option that will help ensure student safety."

Ag changes OK'd

The House has passed an agriculture bill that does a variety of things, ranging from extending bioenergy grants to preparing the state ethanol industry for expected federal action that allows a higher percentage of the plant-based fuel to be used in gasoline.

Also in the bill is a provision that allows cities and towns to contribute to local 4-H programs.

Folding flag bill

A provision instructing Minnesotans how to fold the state flag is in a House bill affecting veterans' programs.

The flag provision came after National Guard officials noticed that the state flag was folded many ways and they thought it would be appropriate for a consistent folding method.

Flood relief moving

Funds to help pay for this spring's flooding appear ready for final approval.

State lawmakers are advancing a measure to spend nearly $3.7 million, which will be combined with federal funds for $15 million so local governments may pay for flood fighting and repairs.

"This particular bill is important because every dollar invested by this bill will be matched three-to-one by federal dollars," Sen. LeRoy Stumpf, DFL-Plummer, said. "That will allow the state to address many additional flood mitigation projects."

The bill is on top of $60 million included in a public works funding bll that will be used to prevent future floods.

No shrinking

The Legislature will remain at 201 legislators after DFL senators withdrew a bill that would have eliminated 11 senators and 22 representatives.

Bill sponsor Sen. Gen Olson, R-Minnetrista, said that proposal would have saved $3 million a year in pay, fringe benefits and other expenses.

Minnesota's 67 senators make up the country's largest state Senate.

"Times are tough and Minnesota families and businesses are having to do more with less," said Olson. "There's no reason the Legislature can't do the same thing."

Much of the opposition came from rural lawmakers who feared far larger districts as population in their areas decreases.

Andrew Tellijohn of the State Capitol Bureau contributed to this report. Tellijohn and Don Davis report for Forum Communications Co., which owns the Bemidji Pioneer.

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