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Rural group suggests school changes

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ST. PAUL - Working together is a better solution for rural school woes than combining school districts, a Minnesota Center for Rural Policy and Development concludes.

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"A state policy should be developed to help foster collaboration with and between school districts," the new report says. "While consolidation has been a common strategy in rural education, the authors' research on cost-effective policies strongly caution against this strategy as the negatives outweigh the positives."

The report from the rural advocacy group also suggests that the state should boost funding for rural areas that face challenges because of distances needed to transport students.

Another key for rural schools is to find better ways to use technology: "Online professional learning communities should be established to help rural educators share best practices and reduce isolation, and online general subject or enrichment courses should be made available to isolated rural learners."

The report was researched by Wilder Research, the University of Minnesota-Duluth and the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities.

"We hope this research produces a healthy discussion," said Brad Finstad, executive director of the Center for Rural Policy and Development. "The researchers who worked with us on this project approached the issues facing rural Minnesota school districts from different directions and with different tactics, but they all sought to address them from the same standpoint: Controlling costs without sacrificing quality."

Franken, Biden talk

Al Franken is looking more senatorial.

After shying away from appearing like he was preparing to take Minnesota's open U.S. Senate seat, that no longer seems to be a problem.

The tone changed after a meeting with Vice President Joe Biden.

"I deeply appreciate the administration's ongoing support and the opportunity to meet with vice president Biden today," Franken said after the recent meeting. "Minnesotans are eager to see Congress make progress on the administration's agenda - and I'm eager to do my part in that effort."

Biden said that he looks forward to Franken taking his seat in the Senate, but stopped short of encouraging a short-cut to the process as some suggest.

"The election process and recount in Minnesota have lived up to the state's reputation for organization, transparency and bipartisanship," Biden said. "The officials have been meticulous and every ruling has been unanimous."

Many Democrats are trying to pressure GOP Gov. Tim Pawlenty into signing a Franken election certificate. That cannot be done under state law until the state court process is finished, but a Norm Coleman challenge to the election results will not be decided by the state Supreme Court until next month at the earliest.

Unemployment aid coming

Minnesota will receive $130 million in additional unemployment insurance.

The funding is designed to help jobless Minnesotans get through the recession that has cost thousands of jobs.

"As I've traveled across the state, I've met many Minnesotans who have worked hard and played by the rules, but have been hurt by this economic downturn," U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., said. "These funds will ensure that these Minnesotans have a safety net during difficult times that helps them get back to work."

Northern Minnesota is especially hard hit, U.S. Sen. Jim Oberstar, D-Minn., added. Kanabec County, for instance, has a 17.3 percent unemployment rate.

"Steelworkers who are losing their jobs on the Iron Range did not cause this economic downturn, neither did the loggers, sales clerks, car dealership employees across Minnesota, Oberstar said. "They deserve a helping hand during tough times."

2 seek 6th

Two Democrats want to unseat Minnesota's 6th Congressional District representative, Michele Bachmann, who has become one of the most-quoted Republicans in Congress.

Bachmann, who represent's a Minnesota district stretching from the eastern Twin Cities to St. Cloud, faces challenges by Elwyn Tinklenberg and Maureen Reed.

Tinklenberg lost to Bachmann last year, but tells media outlets he wants to try again. He is a former state transportation commissioner.

Reed, a Redwood Falls native, is a one-time Independence Party lieutenant governor candidate. She is a medical doctor.

Manual available

Minnesota's Blue Book, formally known as the Legislative Manual, is available on line.

But the hard copy will not be printed until courts decide who will be the next U.S. senator. Former Sen. Norm Coleman is challenging Al Franken's lead in the state Supreme Court.

Secretary of State Mark Ritchie said that since state law requires the manual to list "all persons holding office from this state under the national government," he cannot print the book until a decision is made.

The book is available to be read or downloaded at www.sos.state.mn.us.

Included in the manual is a variety of information, including lists of state and federal officials, election results and historic documents.

Bakk and Elton

Minnesota House and Senate tax negotiators worked long hours in recent days.

But the committee meeting ended early one day so that Senate Taxes Chairman Tom Bakk, D-Cook, could attend an Elton John and Billy Joel concert in St. Paul, House Minority Leader Marty Seifert told lawmakers today.

Bakk, who fellow northern Minnesota lawmakers dubbed "King of the (Iron) Range" for his powerful chairmanship, is a key player in the negotiations.

"I hope he finds the yellow brick road back to the Capitol," quipped Rep. Marty Seifert, a Marshall Republican and reluctant member of the tax conference committee.

State Capitol reporter Scott Wente contributed to this report.

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