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Legislators should invest in proven, local education partnerships

Encouraging data for tough-minded policymakers to consider as they finish out the 2016 session.

When assessing whether public initiatives and other communty interventions are having a measurable effect on social and economic indicators, tough-minded policy analysts often ask:  “Are we moving the needle?” 

As Minnesota legislators and Governor Mark Dayton negotiate in the final weeks of the 2016 session on  investment strategies to reduce disparities in our communities and improve workforce quality for Minnesota employers, they should consider how various needles of measurement are moving — or could be moved — across the state: 

  • In Northfield, thanks in large part to years of work by a partnership now called Northfield Promise, the four-year high school graduation rates for Latino students climbed over the past decade, from 27 percent to 83 percent,  while the graduation rates for low-income students jumped from 38 percent to 87 percent.
  • In Red Wing, where a similar partnership called Every Hand Joined is hard at work, the proportion of students assessed as kindergarten-ready increased from 69 percent in 2014 to 85 percent in 2015.
  • In St. Cloud, a broad multi-sector community partnership called Partner for Student Success has produced data-sharing agreements between three school districts and, as a result, is on course to produce goals and measurable objectives for post-secondary readiness for all students.
  • On the north side of Minneapolis, the Northside Achievement Zone (NAZ) works with kids who are furthest behind academically. For the 2014-2015 school year only 18 percent of area children were ready for kindergarten, compared with 50 percent of NAZ kids who experienced multiple layers of early childhood support.
  • In the St. Paul Promise Neighborhood, more than 90 percent of the children who participated in a partner program and culture-based literacy no longer suffer from summer learning loss. The SPPN was  featured recently in a front-page St. Paul Pioneer Press article on the most promising efforts to reduce disparities.

The five forward-moving initiatives mentioned above are part of the Education Partnerships Coalition, a remarkable collaboration by Greater Minnesota and urban communities to find common ground and learn from each other. The authors of this commentary are privileged to be part of this coalition. And we are buoyed not only by our individual progress, but by the potential we see for these partnerships to proliferate and become a statewide movement.

Each of our partnerships are built around an “everybody in’’ mentality, and a holistic philosophy that seeks help and investment from many sources for all children, from before birth through post-secondary completion to career launch. The partnerships are highly organized, comprised of employers and businesses, teachers and schools, philanthropies and non-profit social service providers, and parents and students themselves.  We are results-focused and data-driven, and striving always toward watching those moving needles.

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For these reasons, our coalition won bipartisan and statewide support from the Legislature in 2015. We are asking residents of our communities and all Minnesotans to help us persuade our legislators and Gov. Mark Dayton to sustain and expand this support, with about $2 million in additional funding. 

That’s a pretty small slice of the state’s $900 million projected budget surplus, and as much as any other proposal, it qualifies as investment.  We have the data to show that our partnerships are helping all our children toward healthier outcomes and readiness for career success, which pays off in increased productivity and reduced costs for social programs and corrections.

Our partnerships’ successes have been featured in commentaries and conferences of the Strive Together organization, a national network of local education partnerships.  Strive Executive Director Jeff Edmondson described last year’s funding as “the first time a state has invested heavily in the support of the backbone infrastructure that is such a critical component of collective impact.’’

Our Legislature and governor should be proud of that fact and sustain the momentum, helping us move our needles and showing other communities how to move theirs.

Dane Smith is the President of Growth & Justice, a policy research organization that’s committed to building a movement in Greater Minnesota toward community education partnerships.  Muneer Karcher-Ramos is Executive Director of the St. Paul Promise Neighborhood.  Sondra Samuels is Executive Director of the Northside Achievement Zone.

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