To Uplift Our Children, Minneapolis Needs Strong Public Schools
A high-quality education unlocks the door to opportunity and provides a gateway to upward economic mobility for all. For far too long, a disproportionate number of children of color, children who receive free and reduced lunch, and children with special needs have been left behind within Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS). Each year, we receive dismal reports about low proficiency rates, lower than acceptable graduation rates, and high rates of suspensions and school discipline for some of our children. A child’s zip code, skin color, LGBTQ identity, and disability status should not determine whether that child while flourish academically or be denied access to a quality K- 12 education. Prior to children graduating from high school, we should ensure they have a solid plan of action that includes a pathway to college or a career doing something they love.
Although the Mayor does not have any direct authority of Minneapolis Public Schools, the Mayor does have tools at her disposal. The Mayor has a bully pulpit and platform to signal to city residents and other stakeholders that improving the quality of education within MPS is one our highest priorities. The Mayor also has the power to convene stakeholders and to bring people together from a variety of arenas to problem solve, plan, coordinate, and implement solutions to the crisis in our public education system. When I was a law professor at St. Thomas, my law students and I launched an annual conference called “How Are the Children?” The conference ran annually for six years and brought together teachers, parents, administrators, lawyers, judges, social workers, and community members to discuss new developments in education and juvenile justice and to identify solutions to the challenges facing schools. As Mayor, I would love to convene stakeholders annually to discuss and measure the progress of MPS and to implement solutions. The Mayor also has influence and the power to leverage relationships to obtain resources, to support the advancement of Minneapolis Public Schools and the thousands of children seeking access to a high-quality education in the District.
I fully support children having access to a high quality of education. As the only candidate in the race who has school-aged children, as well as children of color, this issue is of utmost importance to me. Given the poor quality of education in our less affluent neighborhoods in Minneapolis, I have often struggled, as have many parents of color to find a school that offers a high quality of education and that values my children's cultural background and ethnicity. Thus, I have placed my children in traditional public school settings, charter schools, and private schools, all in search of the best possible education for my children. It is heartbreaking for a parent to not be able to enroll a child that you love in a school down the street from one's home because the proficiency rates are so low and the quality of education so poor. That is unacceptable. We must take a child-centered approach to education and make a stronger connection between the city's economic vitality and a robust public education system. As a civil rights attorney, legal scholar, and education justice advocate, I know that I am not alone in my concerns. Many parents of children of color have taken their children out of Minneapolis Public Schools and enrolled them into surrounding suburban districts. Indeed, a recent article that discussed school choice included an infographic that showed that for every one student that MPS enrolled through the program, it lost twenty two. Parents want high quality education options for their children. It is my desire to see MPS tackle this issue head on, with the full support of city government, including the Mayor's office. We can't afford the status quo in the public school system. In order for Minneapolis to thrive and live up to its full potential, we must assist Minneapolis Public Schools in becoming a world class public education system.
I fully support teachers. I was a teacher of law for fourteen years and it is a profession that I highly value and believe to be one of the most important in our society. I have conducted numerous trainings for public school teachers surrounding equity in public schools, working more effectively with students of color, talking to students about police-involved shootings, and the school-to-prison pipeline to name a few. I have lots of teachers who support my campaign for Mayor and the respect and support is mutual. We must provide better avenues for the voices of teachers to be heard and mechanisms for improving the relationships between parents of color and teachers. I envision the Mayor’s office helping to facilitate community discussions and opportunities for collaboration between parents, teachers, and students. My door will be open to hear ways in which the city may be of service to teachers and helping to bridge the gap for classroom materials and supplies by leveraging the city’s relationships with philanthopry, if needed. One additional way of supporting parent is advocating at the school board administrative level for smaller class sizes in schools across the District. This is one of the key issues that parents and teachers across the District have been concerned about in recent years. If the District so desires, the city must be willing to jointly advocate at the Legislature for additional resources for MPS. The bottom line is that as Mayor, I am willing to provide the assistance necessary to support the growth and development of MPS, given its importance to the success of our city and our children’s opportunities for success.
I fully support teachers having tenure and I believe in union protection for all workers. In my book, being pro-union and pro-change are not mutually exclusive. I believe that we need a stronger teacher rating system and a more rigorous process for determining when tenure is granted. Right now in Minnesota, a teacher is able to gain tenure after just three years, which is not always enough time for determining whether a person has earned a lifetime appointment. (As a law prof., it took me seven years to gain tenure and a very rigorous evaluation process.) Teacher quality is one of the greatest indicators of student success. Students of color and those who receive free and reduced lunch are often placed with the least experienced teachers and the teachers with the lowest credentials. This structural inequity significantly impacts students of color and contributes to the growing gap in proficiency rates and outcomes between students of color and their white peers. This is exacerbated by the lack of a strong teacher quality rating system and the fact that someone could be granted tenure in such a short period of time. Thus, I am advocating for more rigorous standards for determining tenure, which protects the integrity of the tenure system as well as excellent teachers. For those teachers who fall below the standard, districts must be willing to provide additional monitoring and support to ensure that they are able to obtain tenure and are able to teach more effectively. In light of the tremendous education opportunity gap in Minneapolis Public Schools between white students and students of color, addressing these issues should be of the highest importance. We must place what is in the best interests of children first and do all in our power to level the education playing field on their behalf. After all, they will comprise our future workforce, leaders, and drivers of our economic engine in Minneapolis.
The city can do more to support Minneapolis Public School children.
Priority: Increase access to culturally proficient, high quality out-of-school time programs.
Why? Research shows that our children have roughly 2,000 discretionary hours per school year. It is vitally important that when children are not in the classroom learning, they have ample opportunity to engage in positive recreation activities, programs that provide strong literacy support, and programs that assist in building children’s sense of self identity, self-esteem, sense of purpose, and opportunities to explore artistic development and creativity.
How? The city must be willing to make strategic investments and to leverage resources of philanthropy and government to supplement the existing programs so that all city youths have access to quality out-of-school time programming. My office will make investing in youth development a high priority. I would also prioritize out-of-school time literacy support and high- quality tutoring for children in an effort to fuel children’s academic performance and reading proficiency rates. The city must be willing to collaborate with local community-based agencies, MPS, libraries, and Minneapolis Parks and Recreation to ensure a strong infrastructure that pledges to proactively provide more coordinated support and to leverage resources for children in our community.
The city must be a strong bridge-builder between young people and access to the trades.
Priority: Work more effectively and collaboratively with Minneapolis Public Schools and trade unions to connect young people with job opportunities in the trades.
Why? The State of Minnesota is experiencing a Silver Tsunami, which is an unprecedented number of baby boomers exiting the workforce. This had led to a labor shortage, for which the Twin Cities is currently unprepared to address. One of the areas of shortage is in the trades where there is a need for new workers to fill existing and future positions.
How? The city, trade unions, and Minneapolis Public Schools must work collaboratively to create pipeline programs into the trades for students who are interested in this type of career opportunity. As Mayor, I would work with city leadership to facilitate this relationship by helping to coordinate and develop a plan of action, to build upon previous work that has happened on a smaller scale at the District, and to be an advocate and a willing partner to do what it takes to make this happen. I will be a strong champion for co-funding these types of initiatives, work hard to track results, and report them to the public.
The city must be willing to provide support for young people seeking to attend junior college.
Priority: Work to decrease the number of students who are forced to take remedial classes at MCTC.
Why?: Far too many aspiring college students in our community are taking the college entrance exam for junior college and being told that they have to take remedial classes before being allowed to take standard classes that will count towards their degree. It is possible that many of these students are poised to take college level classes, but may need assistance in preparing to take the Accuplacer exam. In the past, MnSCU has spent roughly $65 million of their budget to cover expenses related to students having to take remedial classes. When students are required to enroll in remedial classes, it is very costly, time consuming, and can lower student morale, and decrease the likelihood of students’ matriculating from junior college. This phenomenon impedes students’ ability to enter the workforce in a timely manner, which impacts the economic vitality of the city. One of the main barriers impeding students’ ability to enroll in standard classes is how well they test on the Accuplacer test.
How?: The city can work to ensure that students graduating from Minneapolis Public Schools or are residents of Minneapolis have access to tutoring and preparation support to take the Accuplacer Exam. A small investment on the part of the city can make a big difference in reducing the number of Minneapolis students who are required to take the Accuplacer and increasing the number of students who matriculate in a timely manner from MCTC and other local two-year colleges.
Priority: Work to end the School-to-Prison Pipeline
Why?: Children of color and children with special needs are disproportionately brought into the juvenile justice system through their interactions with School Resource Officers (SROs). SROs are Minneapolis Police Department officers who are placed in school settings. Often these placements do not include specialized training on the part of SROs for working specifically with children and an eye towards de-escalation and conflict resolution.
How?: As Mayor, I will review data on the impacts of SROs in schools. Based upon the findings and analyses of information, I will work with Chief Arredondo to address the findings and concerns and to ensure that a holistic model is put in place that minimizes the criminalization of students, while balancing public safety concerns in schools. I will also advocate for greater resources towards restorative justice in schools.
In order to increase the economic vitality and strengthen opportunity for the future workforce of our city, the Mayor must be willing to engage in problem solving, collaboration, and bridge-building with Minneapolis Public Schools and community-based agencies to strengthen outcomes for youths. We must do all that it takes to help make Minneapolis Public Schools a world class public school system that operates in a more equitable fashion and that works hard to prepare children for college and/or the jobs of the future. As Mayor, I will prioritize equity in our public education system, provide a listening ear to parents, teachers, and students and work hard to provide city resources to help fill the gaps. Those resources may include intellectual capital, social capital, coordination, resources, and leveraging of city relationships to meet the needs of children in our community. I will also work hard to ensure that the voices of parents, teachers, and students are being heard and taken seriously by my office and those within my sphere of influence. I will serve as an advocate by bringing concerns to district administration and MPS school board members when significant matters are brought to my attention by parents, teachers, students, and city residents.