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Minn. Abolishes Education Department, Merges State Services

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Minnesota will abolish its education department and replace it with a new Department of Children, Families, and Learning in an effort to coordinate the work of several state agencies.

Lawmakers approved the changes, proposed by Gov. Arne Carlson, during a special two-day session late last month.

The Republican Governor and others had championed the idea of "a seamless system from cradle to career" during the past three legislative sessions, said Sliv Carlson, the director of government relations for the education department.

Although the law had broad bipartisan support, some claimed that it would not ultimately improve the quality or delivery of public services.

Under the approved plan, the education department will close in October, and its employees, funds, and programs will be transferred to the new agency.

Other programs administered by the departments of health, human services, public safety, and economic security will also be housed in the new department, which would be one of the state's largest.

The transfer is expected to be completed by next summer.

Merging Funds, Staff

The state will retain its appointed board of education under the approved proposal, but the commissioner of education will oversee the Department of Children, Families, and Learning.

Linda Powell, who was reappointed to the commissioner's post by the Governor this year, is expected to complete her four-year term.

Lawmakers did not set aside any additional money for the new department. Instead, the money for programs and administration already allotted to the various agencies will also make the move to the new department, Ms. Carlson, the government-relations director, said.

"Down the road we believe that there will be savings as we roll these programs together," Ms. Carlson added, pointing out that the changes are designed to eliminate duplication across departments.

Charter Schools, Vouchers

In other action during the special session, the legislature lifted the cap on charter schools from 35 to 40. It also stipulated that three of the 40 schools could be sponsored by public universities or colleges in the state.

In addition, lawmakers gave the schools more flexibility in how they provide student transportation, which will be paid for by the state.

Attempts to pass a school-voucher bill were turned back by the Senate, however, and the House failed to hold hearings on the measure.

The voucher proposal would have provided state money for at-risk students to attend the schools of their choice, Ms. Carlson said.

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