MN city school leaders unite against state education cuts

Bernadeia Johnson

Late in the month of March, both the State House and Senate education committees approved legislation that will deal devastating blows to city schools by divesting State support for low-income learners while simultaneously raising property taxes in our three cities.
Why would the legislature turn its back on its population centers? We have the potential to produce exceptional talent that will make Minnesota a global leader. This education policy will not successfully bring us to 2050 with a diverse work force ready to innovate and lead.
Moreover, these calculated cuts are a slap in the face to the 78,500 students in our school districts.
Funding to promote integration and decrease racial segregation — eliminated. Compensatory funding to educate students who live in extreme poverty — frozen. Special education funding — frozen.
The Senate bill reduces education funding overall by $30 million over the next two years — achieved through a combined $30 million in cuts to Minneapolis, Saint Paul and Duluth. The House bill reduces funding overall by $14 million over the next biennium, with cuts to our three districts totaling $57 million, while the rest of the state receives an increase of $43 million.
There is no effort to mitigate the loss of such a significant amount by phasing it out over time. As the House funds are redistributed to other districts, this is not a cut intended to help resolve Minnesota’s budget deficit. At best, this is a hurried and short-sighted approach to address an increasingly complex education landscape. At worst, this is a punitive move that will disproportionately impact city schools and undermine the achievement of the very students who have the farthest to go.
Minneapolis, Saint Paul and Duluth have a more diverse, more mobile, more complex body of students than most school districts in Minnesota. Students of color comprise 76 percent of Saint Paul’s enrollment, 68 percent in Minneapolis and 18 percent in Duluth — almost entirely concentrated in Duluth’s central hillside area. Students whose families live below the poverty line comprise 71 percent of Saint Paul’s enrollment, 66 percent in Minneapolis and 42 percent in Duluth. In Minneapolis and Saint Paul more than 7,000 students are homeless or highly mobile. Their learning needs are profound.
Governor Dayton has stated often that “a budget bill is about our values and priorities as much as it is about dollars and cents.”
Strong integration policy is a critical component of a larger agenda focused on eliminating disparities and creating equity and opportunity for all students. Integration is a core value that our diverse families and communities strongly support.
We question the message being sent by a measure that so pointedly steps back from promoting integration as a core value, particularly in school districts with significant populations of students of color.
In our districts, integration funding is used for more than just busing students around the city. None of us believe that simply moving students from one area to another will result in improved achievement.
While funds do support parent choice and transportation to magnet programs, integration aid also is used for targeted interventions, such as specialists who work one-on-one with families to support learning, data coaches who help teachers examine data daily and adjust their instruction to better suit individual learning needs, and the successful AVID program that helps middle and high school students prepare for college.
If these programs are gutted, we will be looking at a growing achievement gap, not a closing one. We will not be able to offer students even limited choice options. Passage of this bill would come as a detriment to our students, our cities and our state as a whole.
This is precisely the wrong time to divest resources from the important task of closing the achievement gap. This is precisely the right time to make even better use of these resources. Our districts’ intentional efforts are beginning to show positive results in the most critical need areas. We are moving in the right direction.
Greater accountability for results is a must. We know that current integration legislation would benefit from clearer targets and specific outcomes. We fully embrace the urgency with which we must move mountains for our students. However, we fail to see how this legislation will produce what we all want for our students — better teaching, better learning, better involvement, better outcomes.
Keith Dixon, superintendent of Duluth Public Schools; Bernadeia Johnson, superintendent of Minneapolis Public Schools; and Valeria Silva, superintendent of Saint Paul Public Schools.