What would full funding mean for your school?
Gathering in Bloomington last weekend, nearly 500 Minnesota educators answered that question – and began turning wish lists into action plans. Mental health resources for students, fair wages for paraprofessionals, and universal pre-K programs were among the most sought-after items.
“It’s insane that the quality of my students’ education depends on how well I can door-knock and beg my neighbors to raise their property taxes,” said Worthington teacher Jodi Hansen. “This isn’t how we should fund our schools.”
Hansen was a speaker at the Education Minnesota Unity Summit, which energized participants with advocacy workshops, tutorials in education funding, and a rousing keynote session with union leaders who organized recent walkouts in West Virginia and Oakland, Calif..
“A 15-year history of underfunding has left Minnesota public schools scrambling for resources,” according to an Education Minnesota document explaining the term “full funding.” The term connotes restoring state support to what it was before drastic cuts during the Gov. Tim Pawlenty administration in the early 2000’s.
One big-ticket item demanded: for the state to pay for the special-education services it mandates, which now consume $750 million of school districts’ general funds. Another significant change would be to automatically link minimum increases in state funding to the inflation index.
As they traded snapshots of their settings, rural educators were especially impassioned about lacking basic safety resources, such as a school nurse, or cafeteria supervisor. And rural, urban and suburban educators alike spoke of the toll that poverty, trauma, stress, anxiety and depression exact upon their students – and their classes.
“Full funding would mean serving students’ mental health needs, supporting families, and closing the opportunity gaps,” said a Burnsville educator, who preferred to remain anonymous. “It would mean restoring all the cuts we have made to our College-in-the-Schools Program so students can have access to college courses at their high school,” noted another.
Teachers and paraeducators from around the state decried poverty-level wages that most paras earn. Many talked about working two, three or four jobs to make ends meet. Districts struggle to recruit and retain skilled paras, who are essential in supporting the success of students with disabilities.
College costs and student debt loads were key issues for other speakers and conference participants, who advocated for two years of free tuition at state colleges and universities. High school teachers noted that it’s difficult for them to encourage their students of color to pursue a career in education, knowing that the students are likely to leave college with substantial debt and only a starting teacher’s salary.
Increasing wages for paras and reducing student loan debt are “really important for increasing the pool of teachers of color,” one Edina educator noted. “We have paras who could become great licensed teachers, but they can’t finish their degrees if they’re working three jobs and taking on student loans.”
Speakers also took issue with districts’ increasing reliance on property tax levies to fill the gaps left by declining state funding – and they attacked corporate tax breaks from cities that have shorted local schools of funding. Relying on local property taxes to fund schools, they noted, contributes to inequities based on wealth and ethnicity. Educational opportunity, many noted, “shouldn’t depend on a child’s zip code.”
The workshops guided conference-goers to develop action plans – at the school, district and community level – to highlight education funding during the next election. They encouraged particular to focus on the Minnesota Senate, which in 2019 blocked the 3 percent increase supported by the Minnesota House of Representatives and Gov. Walz.
The advocacy goals were clear: to elect representatives who would support full funding – and to hold those officials accountable for keeping the promises they make on the campaign trail.
Tell us, CD2 parents, educators and students, what would full funding mean at your school? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Other actions to take:
- Speak up at townhalls and candidate events to get people on the record about the level of support they are willing to fight for to fully fund our schools. They work for us. If they aren’t willing to support our schools in a meaningful way, they can be voted out!
- Write letters to the editor about your concerns about fully funding schools and other issues related to education. Newspapers used to have reporters with a dedicated education beat, but few can afford that anymore. It’s up to the community to let them know the issues matter.
- Bring these issues up at your local PTO and ask your local legislators to meet with you
- Keep the conversations going…with your neighbors, the educators in your community, your school board…
- Individually write and email your local legislators to have your voice heard for fully funding schools. Contact information for all CD2 House legislators can be found here and your state Senator can be found here Live in Minnesota but outside CD2, or not sure who your state representatives are? Click here to find everything you need!