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Walz makes visit to Ely

Governor tours school, touts support for child care, K-12 spending

by Tom Coombe

Gov. Tim Walz spent part of his 59th birthday in Ely, touting his administration’s education and childcare initiatives and looking at a local project that’s in the mix for state bonding dollars.

Walz read to children in Ely’s Head Start program during a visit to Washington Elementary School, where he also visited with school officials, stopped in at a second-grade classroom and looked at aging windows that will be replaced if legislation sought by the district is successful.

Later in the day, he visited Vermilion Community College, which is seeking just over $3 million in the state bonding bill to replace a leaky roof and renovate its half-century old classroom building.

Flanked by staff members, IRRRB commissioner Ida Rukavina and State Sen. Grant Hauschild (D), Walz spoke highly of Ely’s education and childcare initiatives and hinted that help from St. Paul is on its way.

“We’re about five weeks away from being able to make some significant investments,” said Walz, noting the end of the legislative session in May.

He added “It’s great to be in a school like this. It’s great to see this addition. The Senator has talked how there’s a little bit of a gap in some of the funding, which we can take back and advocate for.  These are Ely residents’ tax dollars that we are going back to ask for. If it’s time for Ely to get new windows in their school, we’ll all help. If it’s time for Wabasha to get new windows in their school, we’ll all help. If we just leave each community on their own it creates a real inequity.”

Walz also highlighted efforts to make child care both affordable, through a $10,500 tax credit proposal up for consideration in St. Paul, and accessible in rural Minnesota.

“I think here in Minnesota we made it clear that we want it to be the best state in the country for a child to group in and for a family to be able to raise their children,” said Walz. “And that means every corner of the state.”

He lauded Ely’s Head Start program, where he spent time Thursday visiting with children and staff and reading “Little Quack Hide and Seek.”

“We know those first 1,000 days shape that child for the rest of their lives,” he said. “And we see rooms like we saw at the Head Start in Ely and we saw learners engaged. We saw happy children. We saw fed children. If we do those investments early on, it makes a big difference.”

The efforts extend beyond early childhood education to private child care as well.

“When I meet with the business community, it’s not taxes that’s the first thing they bring up, it’s workforce and it’s housing and childcare,” said Walz.

During a brief press briefing, Hauschild agreed and added “the two things they look at are housing number one, and will employees have child care for their kids and their kids in strong schools.”

Hauschild also predicted that the legislature will make “historic” investments in per pupil funding and promised to advocate for the Ely district’s push for $4 million in gap funding for the district’s renovation project, which had several items removed because of cost overruns.

“I know there’s a gap and I’m fighting for that funding,” said Hauschild. “We’re going to try and find an avenue to get the resources we need for this area... Up here we really have a special connection to our schools.”

The Ely district is looking for the additional funds to restore items that were included in the initial project budget - including window replacement and some classroom renovations - that were pulled when bids came in far over earlier estimates.

Thursday afternoon, Walz was scheduled to tour Vermilion Community College, meeting with staff and students there as lawmakers  consider a state bonding bill.

If successful, Vermilion would receive $3,019,000 for nearly 7,000 square feet of renovations.

The project calls for replacing the roof of the Vermilion Classroom Building, renovation of six classrooms in that facility, bringing two sets of restrooms into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, updates to corridor areas and the creation of an identifiable entry to the building.

Thursday marked the first visit to Ely by a sitting governor since former Gov. Mark Dayton was in town in 2017 for a water quality town hall held at the Grand Ely Lodge.  Dayton was also here three years earlier for  the grand opening of Ely’s public library.

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