classroom // school

Classrooms across the state of Minnesota have been at times empty due to the COVID-19 pandemic, causing districts to not meet projected enrollments for 2020-21. That leaves a loss in funding, something Gov. Tim Walz wants to make up for with a "one-time investment."

Halfway into his four-year term, Governor Tim Walz announced Jan. 25 that after two years of conversations with educators, school leaders, education organizations, students, and families, it is time to direct Minnesota in a new direction.

Due North, an education plan "built by Minnesotans, for Minnesotans," Walz said.

The Due North Education Plan motto is centered on ensuring every child in Minnesota receives a high-quality education, no matter their race or zip code.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the normal academic setting has been disrupted. Walz said the Due North Education Plan will help students catch up on learning, while closing the opportunity gap and transforming our education system for years to come.

"The Minnesota Department of Education is dedicated to supporting our students and their learning every single day," Deputy Commissioner Heather Mueller said. "The Minnesota Department of Education's Strategic Plan includes strategies that will accomplish the goals of the Due North Education Plan and create an education system that is student-centered, removes structural barriers, provides the best teacher workforce, and fosters safe and welcoming environments in every school in Minnesota."

The plan includes actions to:

  • Support students during and after the COVID-19 pandemic
  • Reform the school finance system
  • Expand opportunities for students in Greater Minnesota
  • Build the most qualified and diverse teaching workforce in the nation

The Department of Education also said the plan would ensure academic standards address the modern needs of the workforce, are inclusive of ethnic studies, and are reflective of students of color and Indigenous students in order to close opportunity gaps and end disparities.

Seven road map transformational changes were developed among the Governor's roundtable, which featured 22 leaders in education, including former Minnesota Supreme Court associate justice Alan Page, Christine Osorio, Superintendent of North St. Paul-Maplewood,-Oakdale Schools, and RT Rybak, former Minneapolis mayor and current CEO and president of the Minneapolis Foundation.

They were:

  • Schools must be ready for every child to reach their highest potential.

  • Create standards that address the modern needs of our society, workforce, and democracy.

  • Redesign and rebuild systems that are anti-racist and culturally affirming with policy and practice decisions centering on the development of students of color and American Indian students to achieve racially equitable outcomes.

  • A continuous pipeline of diverse, anti-racist education professionals, who are reflective of our diverse families and who are prepared and supported for students on day one and throughout their careers.

  • Prioritize education funding to ensure that every child has a quality learning experience that prepares them for a successful future in a complex and diverse global community.

  • Ensure that students find relevance and representation in the curriculum, their teachers and their overall educational experience resulting in equitable outcomes.

  • Mobilize all of us – not just teachers and students – to nurture assets and dismantle barriers so every student and their family has all Minnesotans supporting their academic and personal growth.

"For me, this is about justice. Our educational system has systematically failed children of color, Indigenous, disabled, and poor children," Page said. "It is important that the plan recognizes this failure, and acknowledges that systemic change is needed. It is also important that the plan calls for putting children first so every child has the opportunity to achieve their fullest potential."

LOCAL IMPACT

While full details of the plan were not released in Walz's address, eventually coming out the following day with a state budget announcement, Eastern Carver County Schools superintendent Lisa Sayles-Adams did point out a financial aspect of the plan at the Jan. 25 school board meeting.

"Something of great interest to many districts, including ours, is a one-time investment to ensure pandemic enrollment loss does not negatively impact students," she said.

Walz's proposed budget includes a total new state investment in e-12 education of $745 million, in addition to recent federal investments of $649 million for COVID education recovery.

DeeDee Kahring, Director of Finance for District 112, said this investment would greatly benefit Eastern Carver County Schools, which is planning for a zero percent increase in state funding for 2021. The District had between 330 to 350 less students than anticipated enroll for the school year. Many choosing private school education for in-person learning.

The Governor recommends increasing the general funding formula by one percent in the first year of the biennium and 2.5 percent in the second, for a total new investment of $300 million over the two years.

The general funding formula is the biggest source of state aid to schools in Minnesota and affects every student in the state.

Kurt Daudt, Minority Leader of the Minnesota House of Representatives, criticized the plan, calling it a "bailout" to reporters Jan. 26. He blamed Walz for creating the problem by closing schools to in-person instruction.

"The number one thing we can do is get kids back in the classroom," Daudt said.

Events