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A national group with significant local support is New York City-based 50 CAN (Campaign for Achievement Now). Minnesota is its third state and high-profile attorney Michael Ciresi sits on its board of directors. The local office opened in 2011 and immediately declared a “state of emergency” for Minnesota schools. Its agenda overlaps with StudentsFirst in several areas. MinnCAN and StudentsFirst both advocate for quality prekindergarten programs, evaluating teachers and principals, and tying layoff decisions to teacher performance. StudentsFirst also lobbies for greater school choice for low-income families.
An increasingly important local funder of reform efforts is the Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi Foundation for Children. In the past three years it has sent more than $600,000 to groups that advocate school reform, and a slightly larger sum to fund charter schools and other alternatives to traditional district education.
Ciresi, the foundation’s president, also put his own money into the Minneapolis school board election. Ciresi and his wife, Ann, gave $2,600 to support Reimnitz, by far the biggest household contribution in the race. They gave $2,000 of that through a political fund associated with the parent organization for MinnCAN. Reimnitz set a school board campaign spending record of almost $39,000.
Ciresi said his support for Reimnitz “wasn’t an ideological thing. It was how do we support candidates who have an independent voice,” he said.
He pointed out that his foundation also has supported the Minneapolis and St. Paul districts for campaigns to raise property taxes, and gave a $200,000 grant to Minneapolis that funded a 2009 study of changing layoff practices and evaluating teachers.
Minnesota’s climate for sweeping school reform has cooled with the election of a DFL governor in 2010 and DFL control of the Legislature in 2012. But with teacher contracts being negotiated statewide, the school reform agenda will likely remain a hot topic.
Steve Brandt • 612-673-4438