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Crews battle fires in northern Minnesota; Dayton calls up National Guard

Plus: many Minnesota homeowners still underwater on mortgages; Dayton vows to reduce student testing; Total Wine accuses municipal liquor stores of collusion; and more.

Hot weather and high winds created tinderbox conditions across northern Minnesota, where “…at least 88 noteworthy fires were reported… burning across 3,500 acres,” reports the Duluth News Tribune’s John Myers. Fire season is off to an active start: “ While Thursday was by far the busiest fire day this year, this season there already have been nearly 400 wildfires in Minnesota that have burned across nearly 6,000 acres. … Aircraft helped battle 11 fires Thursday, including Minnesota National Guard Black Hawk helicopters that helped with a fire near Sandstone.”

In spite of regular reports about the improved state of the housing market, MPR’s Matt Sepic notes that many Minnesota homeowners — maybe as many as 15% — are still underwater on their mortgages, meaning they owe more than their property is currently worth. Beyond the psychological strain of that state of affairs, there are real consequences for homeowners: “[Emily] Seru said she was able to refinance her mortgage and lower her monthy payments. But a 41 percent loss in property value put her deep in the home equity hole. She can’t easily get a home equity loan to make repairs — which has become a big concern for a 127-year-old house.”

Why bother testing them when we know all our kids are above average? Gov. Mark Dayton has vowed to find a way to reduce the number of tests Minnesota students have to take, in spite of federal law mandating many of the tests. The Pioneer Press’ Christopher Magan explains:

The federal No Child Left Behind, or NCLB, education law requires students take annual proficiency tests in elementary, middle and high school. In Minnesota, students take the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments, or MCAs, in reading, math and science.

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Minnesota has not formally requested federal permission to reduce testing, but Dorie Nolt, a U.S. Department of Education spokeswoman, said annual proficiency tests were too important to eliminate.

Dayton first announced his desire to cut the number of tests students take in his 2014 State of the State address. Citing the “heavy toll” excessive testing put on students, teachers and school curriculum, he last month proposed slashing the 21 required tests by one-third.

More like Total Whine. Liquor mega-retailer Total Wine has accused members Minnesota Municipal Beverage Association, a trade group representing municipal liquor stores in Minnesota, of illegal collusion over prices. City Pages Ben Johnson details the scheme: “The Minnesota Municipal Beverage Association, which is made up of city-owned liquor stores, sent out a detailed plan on how to beat Total Wine’s business model in its latest newsletter.… The plan includes a price sheet containing Total Wine’s most profitable proprietary items — which is public information under state law —compiled into a chart with the wholesale cost of those items and ‘possible price options’ liquor stores competing with Total Wine could use.” Sounds like sour grapes to us.

The Glean

The Republican governor of North Dakota, Jack Dalrymple, expressed disappointment over lawmakers failure to pass a measure Thursday banning discrimination against gays and lesbians in the state. The AP [via WCCO] reports, “ ‘Discrimination based on an individual’s sexual orientation is not acceptable,’ Gov. Jack Dalrymple said in a statement issued after the North Dakota Legislature killed the proposal. … The state Senate approved the measure in February but House members voted to defeat it, with opponents saying during testimony such protections are unnecessary, and argued it could force businesses and religious organizations to go against their own convictions.”

In other news…

Chicagoans troubled by the fact that Minneapolis is growing faster than Chicago [Metropolitan Planning Council]

Chris Kluwe on how the NFL fails its former players [The Cauldron]

Minor correction in the Ivanhoe Times: Pope Francis has not been removed from the priesthood [Romenesko]

What if a state was “Open for business” but no one came? [AP via Star Tribune]

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Two Metro Transit police officers recognized as Officers of the Year [Pioneer Press]

Our restaurants are above average, too: DeRusha notes the Twin Cities boast 15 4-star restaurants [DeRusha Eats]

“Louisville coach Rick Pitino says he would like to see his school paired up with the Gophers in the 2015-16 ACC-Big Ten Challenge series and then have a home-and-home series with his son’s Minnesota team in the following two seasons.” [Star Tribune]

Watch MST3Kwith Joel Hodgson. (This may already be sold out.) [Secrets of the City]

“Take a Peep at the 2015 Peeps diorama contest winners” [Pioneer Press]

Pirate ship for sale. That’s a lot of dubloons. [Craigslist, h/t @jakenyberg]

Quiz: match the Little Free Library with its neighborhood [Twin City Sidewalks]

New Orleans-inspired cuisine coming to Como Park [Pioneer Press]