As a library media specialist in a Minnesota middle school, Rep. Mary Kunesh-Podein comes across potential teachers all the time. It’s the students themselves. “At our school, students are often mentoring other students, and we are flabbergasted at what we see,” she says. “They have the patience. They have the understanding. They connect well with that other student.
“And we think, ‘This kid would make such a great teacher.’”
As a legislator, Rep. Kunesh-Podein also thinks about this: What state policies could expose more of these young people to the profession, and get them on a path to becoming a teacher? One idea, part of a legislative proposal in Minnesota this year (HF 824/SF 1012), is to bring college-level, credit-bearing Introduction to Education classes into the state’s high schools; another is to identify and eliminate barriers (financial or otherwise) that stand in the way of lower-income individuals getting certified to teach.
Attracting more teachers, as well as retaining them, has been on the minds of many state policymakers in the Midwest, as evidenced by the burst of new legislative proposals, laws and investments over the past few years.
North Dakota is the first U.S. state to authorize a central, shared-service approach to cybersecurity across all parts of state government, says Gov. Doug Burgum, who signed SB 2110 into law in April. Legislators also invested more than $15 million in the new biennial budget to add more cybersecurity personnel and enhance protective software.
A decade ago, Ami Wazlawik, now a member of the Minnesota House, was graduating from college at an inopportune time — in the middle of the nation’s Great Recession. “I was like everyone else,” she recalls, “looking for a job.”
Instead, she found community service, working with students for a school year as a part of Minnesota’s Reading Corps, an experience that had a lasting impact not only on the students she tutored, but on her own life. Wazlawik says Reading Corps helped cement her commitment to being an active citizen, and is one reason she ran for public office.
And the program itself is often cited as a national model for how states can leverage the power of public service to address longstanding challenges or long-term goals.
School closings due to harsh winter weather are nothing new for the Midwest. But this past school year, heavier-than-usual snowfall and a polar vortex led to more shutdowns than usual in some parts of the region, and opened up discussions this year about state laws to help districts adjust.
Among the options considered by legislatures: one, provide “amnesty” to districts during especially bad-weather school years, meaning they’re eligible for full state aid even if they don’t meet state mandates on the number of instructional days; and two, make greater use of virtual learning.
A legislative change in Iowa's process for selecting Supreme Court judges will put more power in the hands of the governor. SF 638, signed into law in May, alters how the 17-member State Judicial Nominating Commission will be appointed.
The governor now has the authority to choose a majority of commission members, nine of the 17. The remaining eight appointments will come from elections held among the state's lawyers.
Illinois has become the first state in the nation to legalize the sale and use of recreational marijuana through an act of the legislature. Sent to the governor for signing in early June, HB 1438 was being hailed by its legislative sponsors as marking a new era in Illinois public policy and as a “model for other states in its commitment to equity and criminal justice reform.”
When a health consumer receives care outside of an insurer’s network of providers, he or she may receive a surprisingly high medical bill, and face the prospects of paying unexpectedly high out-of-pocket costs.
These situations are not uncommon, and often not the fault of the health consumer — for example, he or she requires immediate emergency care, or an out-of-network provider is part of a larger team of physicians providing complex medical treatment.
As evidenced in recent polling data and new state laws, “surprise billing” has become a widespread concern among health care consumers and policymakers alike. In a poll conducted last year by the Kaiser Family Foundation, two-thirds of Americans said they were either “very worried” or “somewhat worried” about being able to afford their own or a family member’s unexpected medical bills.
The Commonwealth Fund, meanwhile, has been tracking the spread of laws to protect individuals from certain types of “surprise billing.” By the end of 2018, the number of states with such laws had reached 25: nine with comprehensive laws (including Illinois in the Midwest) and 16 with “partial protections” (including Indiana, Iowa and Minnesota).
Iowa legislators have created a first-of-its-kind system to better meet the mental health needs of children. As part of HF 690, signed into law in May, an appointed state board will be created to oversee this new comprehensive, coordinated system.
Members of the board will include a mix of state executive branch leaders (in health and education), experts in child welfare and mental health, local school leaders, pediatricians and law enforcement. Legislators will serve on the board as non-voting members. Iowa’s new law also spells out the types of “core services” that the system must deliver to children. That list of services includes: early intervention, medication management, outpatient therapy, access to a 24-hour crisis helpline, mobile response teams, and the availability of community-based and residential services to stabilize behavioral health crises in children.
A U.S. Army Corps of Engineers plan to keep Asian carp from reaching the Great Lakes has an important new supporter — J.B. Pritzker, the recently elected governor of Illinois. In an April letter to the Corps, Pritzker said the state was “willing to move forward to preconstruction, engineering and design” on the Brandon Road Lock and Dam Project. But he also expressed concern about the estimated price tag: $778 million.