Minnesota Sen. Torrey Westrom visited Campbell-Tintah School to meet with staff and students for small group discussions on Friday, Jan. 10.
The senior class had the opportunity to meet with legislator to share stories of what their experience has been growing up in a small community. They shared the challenges they have faced and also the many benefits they get from being in a closely-knit community where everyone looks out for each other.
After the six seniors shared their stories, the students had the opportunity to ask the senator a few questions.
What is the state of Minnesota doing to fund small schools like our own?
“The main thing we are doing is what is called per-pupil formula. The state debates every two years and provides however much money per pupil across the state,” Senator Westrom said.
The senator then described another type of funding that comes together in a variety of categories. Westrom stated that he has largely advocated for per-pupil funding because every student and school district gets treated the same.
“If you put funding into categories, then what has happened traditionally, is most of those categories seem to benefit Minneapolis, St. Paul and Duluth school districts. Because those schools are more likely to meet more benchmarks than smaller schools,” Westrom said. “The more funding for per-pupil, the more everyone is treated the same.”
Do you think larger schools have more opportunities to make money?
Westrom expressed that schools at a bigger school have more opportunities to raise more money. However, he explained that this is the purpose of pushing for a policy that provides fixed costs to schools under 500 as well as the higher implementation of per-pupil funding.
“On the flip side, I often find that in smaller schools, the survival instinct is so much greater. You go to a bigger school and sometimes students don’t feel as connected. So while they are bigger, they sometimes take it for granted,” he said.
What are some things the state can do to keep the younger generation interested in staying in smaller, more rural communities?
“One is rural broadband and that’s why I have been such a strong proponent of rural broadband grants. The state (in past years) has developed a matching grant in rural areas to pay one time, upfront, half the cost to expand rural broadband or areas that didn’t have it, in communities and farm places. And there is still such a need for more rural broadband,” Westrom said.
The senator also championed pushing industries such as agriculture processing and more technology in the area to bring in more jobs.
“I’m optimistic about rural areas being able to grow and sustain themselves with agriculture, ag processing and ag technology,” he continued.
Sen. Westrom is from Elbow Lake, Minnesota, a town with a population of 1,151, allowing him to relate to the students with challenges that face small communities. However, he mostly celebrated with the students growing up in such an area.
“Teachers and staff pick up different jobs and different hats. That’s how we make it in a small town of Minnesota and America,” Westrom said. “That’s why it is so important for me to come to visit with you and take these stories back to the capital, my colleagues and the governor, and say ‘here is why one size doesn’t fit all.”
“It’s a family. It really is,” Superintendent Kyle Edgerton said.
“Life is what you make it, you are going to find that as you move through life. As you guys get older you’ll find when you get to the peak of the mountain, ‘what’s there?’” There’s nothing like home, there is nothing like family. Once you have accomplished something, it’s those relationships in life that are really what you are always going to be able to lean on,” Westrom said as he left the students to go back to their classrooms.