State Senate begins confirmation hearings

Minnesota Senate committees have begun a series of confirmation hearings for DFL Gov. Mark Dayton’s commissioners.

State Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius was up first, winning a recommendation today from the Senate Education Committee on a divided voice vote. The full Senate must now vote on her confirmation.

During the committee hearing, Cassellius said her department’s efforts during the past four years have laid the groundwork for a school system that benefits every student.

“We’ve made incredible progress over the last four years,” Cassellius said. “And if you don’t believe me, go and visit a school in your area. Feel the difference. There’s energy, excitement and teachers feel supported.”

Democrats on the committee mostly praised the commissioner’s work.

Republicans pressed Cassellius on graduation standards and on the performance of urban schools. They also raised concerns about the progress of an alternative teacher preparation initiative enacted in 2011.

Sen. Bill Weber, R-Luverne, said he thinks the commissioner and her department have ignored that law.

“There was not really, as near as I can tell, any serious effort made to ever facilitate that alternative pathway,” Weber said.

Cassellius said people simply have not applied for the alternative pathway option. But she added that there is more work needed on teacher supply and demand issues.

Other members of Dayton’s cabinet are also facing confirmation hearings this week.

They include Corrections Commissioner Tom Roy, Human Rights Commissioner Kevin Lindsey, Natural Resources Commissioner Tom Landwehr and Public Safety Mona Dohman.

Commissioners can serve without being confirmed, but if the Senate rejects a confirmation the commissioner loses his or her job.

UPDATE
The Senate Environment and Energy Committee recommended the re-confirmation of DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr, on a voice vote with no audible decent.