Last Friday, Mayor Jacob Frey announced a $5 million relief package from the city of Minneapolis for residents and businesses impacted by the COVID-19 virus. The funds for residents are targeted at low-income families, the people most likely to be most severely affected by job losses and a slowing economy.
Equity and justice, and something for the city of Minneapolis to brag about, right? Almost.
Many of the families and children most in need and most at risk are excluded from $1 million of gap funding.
Last summer, the city of Minneapolis launched “Stable Homes Stable Schools” in conjunction with the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority (MPHA). Through the program, the city provides $3.5 million annually toward rental assistance payments, with MPHA providing an additional $1.4 million, plus administrative support.
In order to qualify for the assistance, families experiencing homelessness must adhere to program conditions and meet a number of qualifications, including having at least one child enrolled in the Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS).
That’s right, a program funded through taxpayer dollars from Minneapolis residents ($3.5 million) and federal funding (MPHA’s $1.4 million is 98% federally funded) is only available to families who chose MPS.
There’s an international health crisis happening. We don’t have time to play politics about districts and charter schools.
Friday’s announcement made clear that the city will direct $1 million from Stable Homes Stable Schools to give $1,500 per household to families experiencing homelessness or housing instability during the pandemic. That is — if they have a student in the family attending MPS.
In the midst of a pandemic, the city decided to reward some families for choosing MPS and punish other families for choosing either a charter school or to open-enroll children in another district.
A family experiencing a housing emergency in Minneapolis with a child in elementary school is worthy of this funding regardless of where that child goes to school. It would be one thing if MPS was using its own money to fund the program, but this money comes from the city of Minneapolis and federal funding through the MPHA.
If the leaders of Minneapolis in the mayor’s office and on the City Council truly believe in equity and justice, then Minneapolis needs to temporarily expand Stable Homes Stable Schools to all families experiencing homelessness with an elementary-aged student.
How expensive would this be?
Let’s do the math. As of October, MPS had 698 elementary students experiencing homelessness (whose families would likely qualify for the $1,500 gap funding package). There are 225 elementary students experiencing homelessness who attend Minneapolis charter schools. These students and their families are excluded from the emergency funding the mayor and City Council dedicated for this crisis.
There are cost concerns about expanding who’s eligible for this relief. A response I got from Council Member Andrea Jenkins (my representative) mentioned the lack of funds and impending decline in city finances as a reason not to expand the program.
Council Member Jenkins is right. If we give $1,500 to the families of all 698 MPS elementary students who currently qualify the total cost would be $1,047,000 — already more than has been dedicated for relief through the COVID-19 crisis.
We need to look across the river to St. Paul for what to do. On March 25, Mayor Melvin Carter proposed a $3.25 million relief package for residents and businesses that included a provision to give low-income families $2,000 — if they met an income threshold and had a student in St. Paul Public Schools. Sounds familiar, right?
After community feedback about eligibility for families with children in private or charter schools, St. Paul officials provided smaller grants to more families. St. Paul did the difficult, but right thing — helping more families and vulnerable children with emergency funds, granting $1,000 per family instead.
So let’s do that in Minneapolis!
Rather than give each MPS family $1,500, we can give each MPS family, and each charter family, $1,000 for a total cost of $923,000, leaving $77,000 (and the opportunity to help 77 more families). This is a slam-dunk and equitable thing to do.
We can get back to arguing about charter schools and district schools after this pandemic passes. For now, let’s do the right thing and help all families living in Minneapolis experiencing homelessness.
Matthew Shaver, of Minneapolis, is a middle school teacher at Northeast College Prep (a public K-8 charter school in Minneapolis).