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As someone who has spent decades teaching thousands of students in Minnesota classrooms, I know this: Hungry students can't learn.

That's why I strongly disagree with a Feb. 17 Star Tribune editorial that opposed our efforts to provide every Minnesota student with breakfast and lunch each school day.

I'm chief Senate author of legislation to provide universal school meals at no cost to students and their families. Call it a lunch-box tax cut, because it would take financial pressure off tens of thousands of parents and keep more money in Minnesotans' pockets week after week. It also would eliminate the damaging stigma that food insecurity can inflict upon students.

We require kids to be in school, so we need to provide them with the basics of education while they're in class. We don't charge some students more to ride the bus or use the lockers and the desks based on family income. To foster learning, some things are too important to leave out, and ensuring that all students have enough to eat is one of them.

Today, students live complicated lives, often dealing with things like mental illness, divorced parents, traumatic life events, and family incomes that are not consistent. We need to ensure that we eliminate being hungry from the list of barriers to learning, even if everybody benefits.

As someone who has spent her career in classrooms, I want to ensure that every penny of school funding is spent wisely. That's why I will continue to prioritize universal school meals as a good investment in our students' future.

State Sen. Heather Gustafson, DFL-Vadnais Heights

The writer is vice chair of the Education Finance Committee.


The bonds we build

Had it not been for that never-ending snow-piling storm that carpeted our city with seemingly impossible amounts of snow earlier this winter, I wouldn't have had the chance to witness a friendly neighbor clearing the driveway and sidewalk of a young couple with a newborn just to give them a little bit of a break.

Nor would I have seen a swarm of eager neighbors wielding shovels, cat-liter, tow cables and wooden planks descend upon a stuck car intent on lending a hand.

I wouldn't have been offered a free hand-me-down snow blower from a small-business owner on my block who had just upgraded his own tools to clear his clients' walks for years to come. Nor would a neighbor have asked me to keep an eye on their place for the weekend and keep the walk clear while they went to visit family.

Only as I and others struggled to keep the relentless fall of white flakes off our shared sidewalks was I able to experience these joyful moments with our rich community.

Surely, we could debate the merits of replacing this individual and communal activity with a city-run program, a study of which seems imminent ("Mpls. to study sidewalk clearing," Feb. 17). Seems to me like there are plenty of pitfalls with the city-run program:

1) What happens when the city budget is tight and that one snowfall isn't cleared because it isn't determined to fit the criteria required for city intervention? Anyone remember the streets following the Great Recession — sure was less pretty than this year.

2) What happens when new homeowners learn the city plows their sidewalk, so they don't invest in a decent shovel of their own?

3) What happens when the city doesn't have money to invest in the upgraded new technology that small businesses might more rapidly adjust to (i.e., quieter, electric, non-polluting snowblowers)?

But most important, what happens to those bonds we build with others as we struggle together to make the best of what this world throws at us? City crews certainly wouldn't know to pile all the snow from three lots into one big mound so small children in the neighborhood would play together.

If clear sidewalks is a problem, increase enforcement and cite those who don't clear their walks. If equity and fairness is a problem, couple those citations with access to programs that offer assistance to the elderly and disabled.

While my back might get sore or my toes might get cold this week, I'm certain I'll be grateful for the bonds I build with my neighbors and friends.

Travis Novak, Minneapolis


Flophouses — an old, if ugly, idea anew?

With all the talk about affordable housing, I am surprised I have not heard anyone mention a solution used by Minneapolis in the past — the cubicle hotel. This is simply an old building divided into sleeping cubicles for people who can't afford any other type of housing.

For a low price, sometimes even a quarter, a person in need could get a private room with a cot, a nightstand, and hooks on the wall to hang clothing. Kitchen, toilet and washing facilities were shared on a separate floor. Often these cubicles did not extend to the ceiling. So chicken wire was placed over each to prevent would-be thieves from "fishing" into a neighbor's space.

Another name for a cubicle hotel is, of course, a "flophouse." Most flophouses in Minneapolis were in the Gateway District. In 1918, hating such symbols of poverty, Minneapolis banned the establishment of any more flophouses. (Outlawing existing flophouses would be a taking of property requiring compensation the city was not prepared to pay for.) When the Gateway District was razed in the early 1960s, the flophouses were gone, along with the Metropolitan Building, an architectural masterpiece.

Granted, cubicle hotels, or flophouses if you prefer, are not an ideal solution. But they are better than having people sleep on the streets.

David Wiljamaa, Minneapolis


Do it for others. Do it also for you and your own.

As a retiree, I have long supported the concept of paid family medical leave so that my children would have the benefit of time to be with their families during periods of giving birth or family illnesses. But recently I looked in the mirror. The view of my gray hair and wrinkles told me that this issue is even closer to home than I had thought. I am the one who will benefit if my children are able to take time off from their jobs to care for me when I might be hospitalized or bedridden. Let's think of ourselves as well as others when we encourage our legislators to finally give all Minnesotans the time they need to care for all members of their families.

Patricia Eldred, Minneapolis


We should already know: Kids need engagement at home

As any parent, I feel for the tragedy that happened at Harding High School. However, why do the parents think that engaging with their children is a new, great idea? Am I alone feeling that this is a must-do as a parent? Asking how their day at school was? Do you have homework? Really? I cannot believe this is not already done to begin with! We can't keep blaming the school, the police, etc. Good kids start at home from people who love and care for them.

Diane Reyes, Minneapolis