After a school year unlike any other, there is a familiar degree of uncertainty as Minnesota teachers, schools and districts prepare to plan for next year with the recently agreed upon budget framework of the Legislature’s education bill.
As often happens, our legislative leaders have asked for more time to complete an education budget. This extra time creates an excellent opportunity to make real strides toward addressing the critical needs and educational disparities that continue to harm Black, brown, and Indigenous students in Minnesota.
As classroom teachers who have spent countless hours fiercely advocating for a more equitable plan to better serve students, we are hopeful that these much-needed changes are on the way. On the last day of the regular session, House and Senate leaders agreed on a $525 million package in new funding for education over the next two years. It was a fine moment of compromise that will provide vital resources to support our schools (like a 2 percent increase in per-pupil funding) at this unprecedented time.
But we know that the work is not yet done. There will be many legislative debates about how to spend these funds. It’s time to ask ourselves: What are the best ways we can provide all students a solid educational foundation during this public health crisis, while transforming our state’s standard for education? Our experience working in district and charter public schools across the state – with students of all abilities – has given us a firsthand view of the inequalities that affect our schools and ideas for how to make education better for our students.
We urge the House and Senate committee chairs to act decisively on behalf of Minnesota students who continue to be left behind academically. This includes redirecting the largest pool of state education dollars (compensatory aid funding) to:
- Address the poverty cap that needlessly penalizes schools with higher concentrations of poverty.
- Increase the percentage of funds that must be spent at the school site that generated the funds.
- Require these funds to be used on evidence-based practices and tracked to ensure accountability.
We’ve seen the compounding impact of lost learning opportunities from the past year and the strength of families, students, and teachers who work together. We’ve regretted the moments when learning opportunities were interrupted. Last fall alone, unfinished learning cost students roughly one-third of an academic year in reading and half of a year in math. These losses are exacerbated by concentrations of poverty, shortfalls in funding and teacher shortages.
It is imperative that Minnesota’s schools be prepared to support students and families in the years to come. These supports could include setting aside funds that continue to support, nurture and retain teachers of color; recruiting more teachers who earn alternative certifications; and work toward much-needed discipline reform. Reforming this funding wouldn’t be as flashy or eye-catching as laptops in the hands of every student, but it would go a long way toward making systemic change by investing in more quality teachers with diverse backgrounds who provide many social, emotional, and academic benefits for all students.
At a time when schools face challenges unlike anything that has come before, equitable funding and support for all teachers represent an important step in preparing Minnesota schools to meet these challenges. We are grateful for leaders who have put partisanship aside to strive to do better for our students and hope that – together, with our students and their families – we will all overcome the challenge before us.
Kelly Caruth teaches at Saint Paul Public Schools; Pamela Femrite, Mankato Public Schools; Ben MacKenzie, Hiawatha Schools; and Melodee Strong, Minneapolis Public Schools.
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