A trio of DFL candidates for state Legislature seats sat down Thursday to answer questions about education.

Matt Bruns, a Red Wing resident looking to unseat state Rep. Barb Haley (MN-21A); Elise Diesslin, an Elgin City Council member who is looking to unseat state Rep. Steve Drazkowski (MN-21B); and Ralph Kaehler, a St. Charles businessman looking to unseat state Sen. Mike Goggin (MN-21); answered questions online for about an hour on education topics ranging from funding to school resource officers.

In total, more than a dozen questions were asked. Here are the highlights from each candidate.

Ralph Kaehler

Ralph Kaehler
Ralph Kaehler

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Where do you stand on statewide funding for education?

"The funding for our schools hasn’t kept up with inflation," Bruns said, adding that this year, the state had projected a $1 billion surplus that could have solved a lot of education funding problems, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the state is now facing a $2.4 billion deficit. "Maintaining our funding and keeping parity on that is the main priority. There’s going to be a lot of demands for funding. Keeping money, especially for rural districts, is important."

What is your plan to fully fund education?

Kaehler said there needs to be equitable funding across districts., and funding should be "per student, not based on where you live. When it’s based on where you live, we build in discrepancies.”

What messages do you have for racial justice for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, people of color) students and students as a whole?

Historically, the government has tried many things, such as the "separate but equal" Jim Crow laws to school busing, which was not successful. "Now we’re dealing with unequal areas of school funding. Everyone has to get involved to change this," he said. "Teachers are going into the profession not to get rich, but because it’s in their heart. We need to address burnout. Throwing money at it doesn’t work."

Matt Bruns

Matt Bruns
Matt BrunsSubmitted photo

Where do you stand on statewide funding for education?

"We’re historically underfunded," Bruns said, adding that education has not kept pace with inflation over the years, meaning per pupil, Minnesota's students are underfunded to the tune of $2,300, or $4.3 billion total. While corporations get tax cuts, those cuts are paid for by local taxpayers when it comes to education. Further, the federal government woefully underfunds special education, he said.

What is your plan to fully fund education?

"We’ve had enough of taxes going up to fund our operating levy," he said, pointing to districts like Bloomington, which has a bigger tax base that helps fund operations more fully. "It's not equitable. We want to make sure students have access to career and technical resources."

What messages do you have for racial justice for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, people of color) students and students as a whole?

"Students need the stories that reflect their cultures," he said. "They need staff that have informed understandings on their own biases. And students need leaders that look like they do. "

Elise Diesslin

Elise Diesslin
Elise DiesslinSubmitted photo

What is your opinion on SROs (law enforcement officers) in schools?

"I think there could be a need for it, but if we move them out, we could fund mental health, trauma-informed resources." Funding for school resource officers could be used for more counselors, someone trained to de-escalate conflict, she said. "If you take them out, you should have something to bring in."

What issue resonates with your district or rural Minnesota?

"Being able to fully fund education is probably the biggest one, and rural broadband now that students are stuck at home," she said. "We have teachers having to buy things for their classrooms." She added that teachers need a better minimum wage. "As a young person who is married, it’s unfair it’s assumed a spouse can take up the other half of rent or mortgage."

What messages do you have for racial justice for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, people of color) students and students as a whole?

In addition to hiring more staff who are BIPOC — possibly offering a loan repayment incentive — and diversity training, Diesslin said schools need to teach history that comes from a multicultural point of view.