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Asking Minneapolis Public Schools: What are we worth?

Kenneth Eban

On May 27, Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) presented a budget recommendation for the 2014-2015 school year to the Minneapolis Public Schools Board of Education. On June 10, the Board of Education approved an amended version of this budget, reallocating money to different purposes and departments.

The unexplained changes to the MPS budget draw attention to something important. A budget is not an arbitrary set of numbers. A budget demonstrates the values and the priorities of an organization. A budget puts an organization’s money where its mouth is. And, ideally, a budget’s allocations represent specific goals and the money needed to achieve them.

What will $200,000 do?

I am a black male. I have heard countless times that MPS is going to focus on black male achievement and would establish an office to support black males in MPS. In the current budget, the Office of Black Male Achievement was awarded a paltry $200,000 out of the total $774,000,000. That is just over one-fortieth of 1 percent of the overall budget, allocated to serve all black males in a district where African-Americans make up the largest single demographic group at 36 percent of enrollment.

What kind of resources can the district provide with $200,000 that will improve the outcomes for all of the black males? In the context of President Barack Obama’s 2012 call to action in signing an executive order for Educational Excellence for African Americans and his announcement this year of $200 million in funding for the My Brother’s Keeper initiative, the funds designated by MPS toward these issues appears half-baked, even shameful.

Or, how about the Gifted and Talented students?  These students are leaving the district because they are so underserved, and MPS has only allocated $460,000 for Gifted and Talented programs. It’s no wonder that they are looking elsewhere.

Even the English Learners program, which received a last minute $5 million allocation, is underfunded. This represents one half of 1 percent dedicated to one of the most underserved populations in Minneapolis, a group that includes more than 8,000 students and makes up a full quarter of the district.

If the amount allocated to these groups is not enough to make an impact, then the allocations are nothing more than empty, symbolic numbers that try to communicate “you are important” but fall short of their goal and instead send a message that, in the grand scheme of things, our successes are not worth very much.

Questions should be asked of MPS

I encourage students, parents, and education allies to ask these pertinent questions: How did these figures get determined? How did MPS prioritize student needs? What specific goals is MPS trying to accomplish with each “bucket” of funds? And, most important, when it comes time to budget next year, what metrics will be used to determine the allocation of funds?

Furthermore, I encourage the Minneapolis Public Schools to increase funding for the Black Male Achievement, Gifted and Talented, and English Language Learner programs. If we truly intend to support these students and let them know they matter, our budget numbers should reflect that claim.

When we look at the MPS budget, we can’t help but interpret the priorities and the values officials have assigned to particular groups in dollar terms. The resources assigned must be adequate enough to make a difference. We are well aware of the limited resources, but the way we split the little we do have says something about our long-term objectives, and puts a price on every student’s head. The question for MPS becomes, “What are we worth to you?”

Kenneth Eban is the state captain of Students for Education Reform-Minnesota.

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Comments (10)

  1. Submitted by Steve Titterud on 06/24/2014 - 09:55 am.

    “unexplained changes”, “half-baked, even shameful”

    You’re on the right track, young man. That $200,000 will fund little more than words of encouragement, but mostly a lot of paper-shuffling, from a couple staff positions, which your post’s facts clearly show is inadequate to either the need, or to the claims of the new program. So much for the substance behind the PR about that program.

  2. Submitted by Dan Hintz on 06/24/2014 - 10:25 am.

    Now they are using kids

    Guess what SFER is? Its an astroturf group funded by right-wing billionaires, just like MinnCan and all the other corporate education “reform” groups.

    http://www.thenation.com/blog/172174/astroturf-activism-who-behind-students-education-reform

    • Submitted by Steve Titterud on 06/24/2014 - 11:56 am.

      How about the substance of the article ?

      Anything to say about THAT ? Or are both the writer and his expressed concerns irrelevant ?

      • Submitted by Dan Hintz on 06/24/2014 - 01:30 pm.

        False choice

        If the question is whether we are spending enough money to ensure the success of African American males, the answer is no, we aren’t. But that isn’t the real goal of the writer and his group – for them, its about busting unions, imposing corporate education “reform” and more high stakes testing. If we are looking for more money to allocate here, I would start with the money being paid to testing companies like Pearson that are funding this astroturfing effort.

        • Submitted by Steve Titterud on 06/24/2014 - 03:11 pm.

          Did we read the same article ?

          I don’t see a single word in this student’s points about “busting unions, imposing corporate education “reform” and more high stakes testing.” nor “astroturfing” either. Before we start projecting about “the real goal of the writer” shouldn’t we at least consider what he’s actually saying ?

          Even if the parent program nationally DOES accept approximately $1.6 million from the kind of groups you’re talking about into their budget, does that mean the organization and all its people are slaves to those right-wingers who gave the money ? Does it mean that this young man should be ignored, that it’s not worth listening to his voice ??

          He’s talking about THREE programs here, not just the one concerning young black males. The point the student is working to make: inadequate resources allocated to important programs through a somewhat shady budget process. The district is short-changing the students who NEED those programs. He’s asking the school district to reconsider and allocate sufficient resources to those programs.

          I don’t see some political cabal at work here. I see a thoughtful student pointing out what is clear and obvious to those willing to see. How refreshing !! Every time I get down in the mouth about the younger generation, I’m going to bring this young man’s example to mind – for a breath of fresh air.

  3. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 06/24/2014 - 11:54 am.

    Kenneth hit the nail on the head. Public education consumes more than 40% of the state budget; it’s a matter of priority, not resources.

    And it’s not hard to see where the priorities lie in MPS:
    http://www.mnschooloutreach.org/attachments/MPSResolutionO4GPublicDocument.pdf

  4. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 06/24/2014 - 12:32 pm.

    What are you worth?

    With a budget of $719,345,107 to be spent on 34,400 students, your education is apparently worth $20,911 to the taxpayers. You’re lucky. The students over in Saint Paul are only worth about $16,000 to the taxpayers.

    Now what you should do is start a movement amongst fellow students and their parents to demand that the school board write each of you a check or a voucher in that amount redeemable at the educational institution of your choice.

    At $21,000 I’m guessing you will have lots of options.

  5. Submitted by Marisa Gustafson on 06/24/2014 - 12:59 pm.

    Regardless of what ‘camp’ you’re in, the author makes some thoughtful and well-written points that should concern those whose first priority are kids.

    Thank you Mr. Eban for your valuable contribution and insight. I agree with you that although budgets are complicated and there is never enough money, yours is an important question to ask.

  6. Submitted by Chris Stewart on 06/24/2014 - 01:10 pm.

    Bravo for the SFER, and bored by the “billionare” rhetoric

    It is interesting that a student activist who sits through every boring school board meeting is the first to catch this issue. It gives me hope about the next generation. I surely can’t say I was that perceptive when I was his age.

    And, I have the same reaction as Steve Titterud to Dan Hintz’ attempt to invalidate the voice of a SFER activist. Stringing together the words “billionaire” and “astroturf” and insinuating that this “kid” is being used (because, of course, he can’t be a thinking being) is not an actual argument.

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