This was the first week back at school for many of the kids and teachers in our community. As well as the usual back to school jitters, this new school year brings school changes, bus shortages, and a level of COVID-19 anxiety as everyone tries to navigate the ongoing uncertainty of this unique moment. It isn’t easy, but as my social media fills up with first day of school pictures and I look out my window and see kids chattering as they walk home from the bus stop, I’m filled with hope. I admire the energy and resilience of our students, and I'm grateful for all the teachers, school staff, parents, and families who are working hard to make things work for the kids in our community.
As we start another school year, I also think this week is the right time to take a deeper look at education in Minnesota. This week’s newsletter is part of my Issues Connecting Community and the Capitol series, a monthly feature where I talk about an important issue and share ways for Minnesotans to learn more and get involved. If you’d like to read more, please follow my official Facebook page as well.
Investing in Public Schools: An Overview of Education Funding in Minnesota
Public education is the cornerstone of our democracy. When every Minnesota kid gets a great education, communities become stronger and we all do better. Our public schools should give every child, of every race, background, and zip code, the opportunity to learn inside and outside the classroom. We need to ensure every Minnesotan has the education, support, and tools they’ll need to succeed in the workforce and in the community.
One critical component of ensuring the success of all our kids is making sure schools have the resources they need to provide a great education and to close the opportunity gaps that leave far too many students behind. While Minnesota has a long history of state investment in public education, the last few decades have seen a decline in that commitment. When adjusted for inflation, real per-pupil state funding for school districts has declined over the last two decades. In short, our public schools aren’t receiving enough resources to provide every student, in every district, with the high-quality education they deserve.
To make up for declining state aid, in many cases, school districts have increasingly been forced to make cuts or rely on property taxes. Local taxes make up the second largest share of school districts’ budgets, with the average district receiving 20 percent of their revenue from property taxes. Relying on property taxes creates inequities between schools and puts strain on residents living on a fixed income.
Like many states, Minnesota has long been reckoning with the inequities of financing public schools through local revenue. In 1971, after a 10 year effort, the Minnesota legislature passed what’s referred to as “the Minnesota Miracle,” legislation that reformed our education finance structure to ensure the state bore the responsibility of funding public schools. Unfortunately, the positive impact of this school financing reform has been diluted over the decades by subsequent state property tax legislation and the state’s failure to fully fund our schools.
Moreover, the inequities across and within school districts continue to impact the resources available to schools. A history of redlining in many communities barred Minnesotans of color from certain neighborhoods, shutting them out from areas that were often populated by higher-priced homes and strong tax bases and preventing families from building wealth through homeownership. Racist housing policies designed to segregate neighborhoods impacted local public schools too. Continuing to rely on property taxes to fund our schools harms communities with fewer resources and hurts kids of color and kids from low-income families the most. According to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, school districts attended predominantly by students of color received $23 billion less funding in 2019.
To make up for decades of underinvestment, Minnesota needs to invest in the resources students need to succeed. While school funding is just one piece of the puzzle, it's a critical component to addressing our educational disparities and ensuring all our kids can thrive. We must ensure we’re targeting resources where they’re needed most and that all kids have access to the educational opportunities and support they need. As a state, we need to distribute resources equitably and ensure all of our kids get a world-class education, no matter where they live or what they look like.
Positive Steps We Took This Year
Every Minnesota child deserves a high-quality education, but this work cannot be achieved in a single session. It requires a generational commitment to investing in our schools and what works for our kids. House DFLers are committed to doing this work. We took positive steps forward by increasing funding for schools this year and securing the largest investments in education our state has made in 15 years.
Increased funding for school districts:
This funding will help schools retain teachers, keep class sizes from growing, and provide academic and emotional support for students who experience learning disruptions and other challenges due to COVID-19. However, since Senate Republicans refused to support ongoing investments in E-12 education, many districts will face uncertainty again in two years. My colleagues and I will keep pushing for stable and equitable long-term investments in education.
Increases for special education and ELL Programs:
In addition to providing more general funding, our budget increases funding for special education and English language learner (ELL) programs. State and federal funding often doesn’t cover the cost of providing these critical services, which means schools have to use general funds to make up the difference. While more is needed to meet the needs of all students, the funding we secured will help schools maintain and improve their special education and ELL programs.
Support for full-service community schools:
House DFLers also fought to create more full-service community schools, schools that provide academic, health, and social services for students and their families. While Senate Republicans blocked our efforts, we'll continue to fight for this funding and we're encouraged that Governor Walz is using federal funding to further this goal.
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Addressing Educational Disparities
Minnesota has some of the largest opportunity gaps in the nation. Black, Latinx, and Indigenous students are less likely to graduate high school, attend college, and finish college when they do attend. Closing these gaps and making our public school system more equitable is a priority for me and my House DFL colleagues. Some of the steps we're taking include:
Investing in early learning:
Opportunity gaps are created in the earliest years of life, before children reach kindergarten. To eliminate them, we need to invest in early education. We secured funding to provide pre-k to 4,000 kids this year, but much larger investments are needed to make sure every child gets off to a great start. While Senate Republicans blocked additional early learning funding this session, it’s something we’ll continue fighting for in the future.
Increasing support for teachers of color and Indigenous teachers:
Students of color and Indigenous students make up 35 percent of the state’s K-12 population, but just 5.6 percent of educators identify as as a person of color or Indigenous person. This year, we invested a total of $35 million in a variety of programs that will recruit and support teachers of color and Indigenous teachers. We also advocated for tools to help educators better understand and meet the needs of all of their students, including trauma-informed and anti-bias training and tribal relations training. Governor Walz devoted federal funding to these initiatives.
Limiting exclusionary discipline:
Exclusionary discipline methods, such as suspensions and expulsions, have a disproportionate impact on students of color and those with disabilities. Black children make up 11 percent of Minnesota’s student population but account for 41 percent of expulsions. Indigenous students, who make up 1.6 percent of the population, are 10 times more likely to be suspended. While the legislature secured some funding to provide training on non-exclusionary discipline, we have a lot more work to do in this area. I’ll continue supporting policies that limit the use of exclusionary methods and keep kids in the classroom.
Where to Learn More
It’s difficult to cover all the intricacies of education funding and policy in a single newsletter! If you’d like to read more about the topics above, here are some reliable sources of information:
I hope this was a helpful deeper dive into our E-12 education system, and I’d love to hear your thoughts on E-12 education, what’s working, and where we can improve. You can reach me by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (651) 296-4200.