At the beginning of the pandemic, we all said repeatedly we were living in unprecedented times. The classroom shifted to our homes, and nothing has been the same since.
Families, students, and school staff are all under more stress. They’ve gone through three years of a global pandemic disrupting education, shifting between in-person, hybrid, and distance learning, creating new ways of teaching, and learning on the fly. Student mental health is frayed, along with staff. Stressed staff are trying to teach and support stressed students. All while conservatives have again decided to wage a culture war to silence discussions of race and inequality, isolate LGBT students, politicize school curriculum, and drive a wedge between parents and their child’s teachers.
House DFLers know this is the most critical moment to act. We are choosing to invest over a billion dollars in our students each year for the next three years because we know this is a choice about the direction of our state’s future; it’s a values blueprint, and we are ready to deliver the support students, families and school staff need to ensure that Minnesota can thrive in the future.
Schools are dealing with all of this while the state fails to fund what we require them to do. Statewide the difference between what it costs to provide special education services and what the state pays for those services is over $700 million. The deficit in English Language Learner services is $147 million. So, while we ask schools to do more to catch our children up, we cannot stand idly by without solutions.
We can and should do better and that is why the House DFL is proposing funding over $500 million each year to significantly reduce this cost burden that impacts every school in the state.
Minnesota ranks 49th in the nation in the ratio of school counselors to students, while students’ and teachers’ mental health is declining in every corner of the state. House DFLers will utilize the budget surplus to address shortages of school support personnel services that benefit students’ social, emotional, and physical health. The House DFL education proposal provides enough funding for schools to hire more than 1,000 additional counselors, social workers, school psychologists, school nurses, and chemical dependency specialists. Teachers and students are asking for this, and the House DFL is fighting for this because it couldn’t be clearer this is where our priority needs to be.
To close the opportunity gap, we need to invest in our youngest Minnesotans. Since the earliest years of a child’s life are the foundation for everything that follows, expanding access to early education is one of the most effective ways to reduce disparities. Our proposal establishes a statewide voluntary prekindergarten program made available through private day care providers, Head Start programs, and school-based opportunities for children who are least likely to have access to early learning. It will deliver educational opportunities to thousands of children and give them the tools to succeed in kindergarten and later in life.
Black, Indigenous and teachers of color make up only five percent of full and part-time teachers in Minnesota. Thanks to a coalition of educators and community organizations, last year’s budget agreement included new investments to help recruit and retain more teachers of color with the overall goal of providing all kids with equitable access to educators who look like them. While we’ve made some progress, there’s more we must act on to ensure all students can learn in a welcoming environment which reflects the true diversity of our state.
With a $9.3 billion surplus, the idea that our resources are scarce or limited is not only inaccurate, but also a misleading notion that has trickled down since the Reagan Administration. As Minnesota lawmakers and leaders in education, we have a historic, once in a lifetime opportunity in our state to correct the ongoing underinvestment in our students to move our students and families forward. We invite Senate Republicans to join us in delivering clear, innovative solutions that get our students on the fast track to recovery. Our kids and families deserve no less.
Rep. Jim Davnie (DFL-Minneapolis) chairs the House Education Finance Committee.