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Johnson says work requirements, school choice provide path out of poverty

July 30, 2018

School choice programs and work requirements for people receiving benefits like Medicaid are the best approaches to pull Minnesotans out of poverty, Republican candidate for governor Jeff Johnson said Monday.

Johnson debuted a plan to address poverty and unemployment in front of a former workforce center in north Minneapolis. He was flanked by a few Minneapolis residents who said government benefit programs helped them as they received work training and got jobs.

“We should infuse that safety net with a work requirement for those able to work. Not as a punishment, but because work is intrinsically good,” said Johnson, a Hennepin County commissioner who is running against former Gov. Tim Pawlenty in the Aug. 14 Republican primary. Pawlenty’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment on Johnson’s proposal.

Johnson said his work requirement plan would closely resemble what state legislators proposed this spring. The bill would have required people to work, volunteer, search for a job or participate in training or school for 80 hours a month to receive Medicaid. Some people, including those who are disabled or elderly, could have qualified for exemptions.

The bill did not progress at the State Capitol and faced opposition from Democrats and some counties that would have been tasked with handling monthly check-ins with recipients.

This year Kentucky became the first state to pass a Medicaid work requirement. But a federal judge ruled last month that President Donald Trump’s administration’s approval of the program was “arbitrary and capricious,” because officials did not adequately consider whether it would help the state provide medical assistance to residents.

Johnson also noted Monday that Minnesota’s achievement gap between students of color and white students ranks among the worst on the nation.

“We have been wringing our hands about that and we have been spending money on that for decades, and it’s not getting any better ... For me, the answer to that is let’s try some things we haven’t been doing. In particular, let’s give parents more choices and let’s give them more control over the schools their kids already go to,” Johnson said.

He said he’s open to options like school vouchers or tax credits to support parents who want to send their children to another school. He would also push for a “parent trigger” law. It would allow parents to make dramatic reforms at a “failing” school — like turning it into a charter school — if a certain percentage of parents pass a referendum, he said.

His proposal came the same day as DFL gubernatorial candidate Lori Swanson said she would appoint a “career and technical education czar” to help prepare students to fill workforce gaps in areas like health care and information technology. And DFL candidate Erin Murphy plans to announce her education agenda Tuesday, which she said would build on Gov. Mark Dayton’s work.

Jessie Van Berkel • 651-925-5044

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