As a former public school teacher and a dad, the back-to-school season is a meaningful time of year for me. This year, it’s also full of change. My daughter, Hope, starts her first year of college at the University of Minnesota, and my son, Gus, heads back to middle school. This also will be the first year in nearly 30 years that neither my wife, Gwen, nor I will be starting September in a school.
While I am not setting up my classroom or getting my lessons planned this year, I approach every day in my job as a “teacher-governor.” That’s because the education of our children determines the future of our state. Every student in Minnesota deserves the opportunity to learn in the best schools in the country with caring, qualified teachers.
But as I travel around the state, I see how the quality of a student’s education is too often dependent on their race or ZIP code. I recently met a grandmother who lives with a deep anxiety. Her fear is that her grandchild in La Crescent won’t receive the same opportunities or have as bright of a future as her grandchild in Woodbury. Disparities in our educational system based on geography, race or economic status hold back not only our students, but our entire state from reaching its full potential.
We must make Minnesota the “Education State” for all children — no matter who they are or where they live. This past legislative session, we achieved many victories for education. Together, we increased the general education formula for the next two years, giving schools more flexibility to meet the unique needs of their students. We kept preschool doors open for 4,000 of Minnesota’s littlest learners to keep them on track to reach their full potential. We invested in the mental health of our kids by allowing districts and charters to hire more school counselors.
While I am incredibly encouraged by these steps forward, we still face many challenges in education. The achievement gap between white students and students of color persists — threatening to hold back our future workforce. Too many school districts, especially in greater Minnesota, rely on levies and property tax increases to provide students with the resources they need and deserve. We cannot continue to ask our teachers and administrators to do more with fewer resources.
If we are going to foster the best education system in the country, every politician, every community and every Minnesotan must value our children receiving a high-quality education. This means valuing our teachers, our principals, our mentors, our paraprofessionals, our bus drivers and, of course, our students. In sum, it means valuing the great American institution of public education.
Back-to-school is a time filled with possibility and excitement. Education is the great equalizer of society. Education unleashes untapped potential. Education conjures the magic of promising beginnings and the grace of second chances. I will work every day to make Minnesota the Education State. Good luck to everyone heading back to school, and I look forward to what we can achieve together this year.
Tim Walz, a DFLer, is governor of Minnesota.