U.S. Sen. Tina Smith visited Richfield High School in early January to meet with educators and students.
Sen. Smith met with more than 80 senior students who take Mike Harris’s college-level government class.
Harris, who is also Education Richfield’s local union president, had the students think about themes of questions to ask. They came up with three buckets – the day-to-day job of being a senator, some of the issues from their course content and current events.
Smith also asked the students questions including how they think we can get more young people involved in voting and political engagement.
“This is so important for our country,” Smith said. “I look out at all of you and I’m so interested to know what you think about this, where your minds are, where your hearts are on this. What are you thinking about as your responsibilities and obligations as a citizen and resident of this amazing, incredible and flawed country?”
One student asked, “How do you decide how you vote on a bill?”
Smith said that her job is to understand what is happening in the lives of other people, though she said she does also have a set of values and life experiences that she needs to remain true to when she takes a vote.
“My job is to show up, listen and learn from other people,” said Smith. “Just like I’m doing today.”
Smith was also asked about how often she collaborates with other senators, especially those not in her designated political party.
“To get anything done, you have to collaborate,” she said. “Even in this room there is a diversity of opinions. You can either look at it as, I’m going to try and convince you that I’m right, which is a debate and that’s OK. But I try to take the approach of listening and coming together.”
Students also wanted Smith to talk about her commitments to making sure climate change is addressed.
Smith told the students that she wants to take bold action and is part of a group of senators working on bills to address the issue, but she also asked them what they would tell a lawmaker about why it is important.
“I would tell them that it’s going to be our future that’s affected,” one student said. “Not theirs.”
Students also asked the senator about impeachment and foreign affairs issues such as Iran.
After the session with students, Smith met with Richfield school administrators and other educators.
They discussed the district’s recent building referendum win and issues around free or fee-based lunch programs.
Sen. Smith also answered a few questions from the Minnesota Educator before she visited with students and educators.
Minnesota Educator: As a senator on the Education Committee, what issues are really important to you, especially for Minnesota students?
Sen. Smith: To be able to serve Minnesota on the Education Committee in the Senate is a big deal for me, because I care so much about education. I think that public education is the root of all opportunity and it needs to be supported.
I have been working on things like expanding access to mental health services in schools. I have heard from so many teachers about their worries around the mental health needs of their students. I’m working on issues like lunch shaming because I know if kids don’t have access to the nutrition they need, how can we expect them to learn? I also am really happy that in this last budget bill that we passed, we were able to get some significant increases in funding. There’s a lot more to do, because schools don’t work if they don’t have the resources. Funding for special education, Title 1 funding, low-income schools, funding for teacher training and funding for education support teams – there’s so much more to work on.
Minnesota Educator: Do you have a bill that you are particularly proud of?
Sen. Smith: I’m really proud of the Teacher Shortages Act that I have been working on, that has the support of teachers all over the country including in Minnesota. It is a way to help expand the diversity of teachers and also to recruit teachers into a field that is really challenging and difficult. That bill, I’m hoping, will be able to get some traction. I’m going to keep on working on it.
And then the work on mental health is really near and dear to my heart.