A critical part of educating our children is building our future economy. Four years from now, the Minneapolis-Saint Paul Regional Workforce Innovation Network projects our region will need to fill 550,000 job openings. At every level, we need to be preparing more people, including our children, to join the Twin Cities workforce.
No one enjoys the prospect of paying more in taxes. But even less palatable would be a future with more of our students on the sidelines, not prepared for a meaningful future.
That’s why business leaders in Minneapolis, including the leadership of the Minneapolis Regional Chamber, are encouraging voters to support the two-question $30 million referendum on the ballot this fall to support the Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS).
The first question asks voters to consider an increase to the existing operating levy, a total of $18 million in additional revenue. The second question authorizes a tech levy to cover the increasing cost of technology and data systems. These funds would allow MPS to move $12 million in current technology expenses out of its general fund, freeing up resources for teachers and other needs such as literacy and support services.
For a commercial-industrial property with an estimated market value of $1 million, passage of both questions would mean an additional $634 per year in taxes. We think the investment in our future workforce is well worth it.
MPS has begun cost-saving measures and made multiple changes to help put the district in a stronger financial position. For the first time in nearly a decade, this year MPS balanced the budget for the 2018-19 school year without the use of reserve funds. That required targeted budget cuts and hiring and travel restrictions, but it helped put the district in a stronger position.
Still, the additional revenue from the MPS referendum is clearly needed. For example, the district receives significantly less funding from state and federal governments than it spends on special education and English language learner services. For the 2016-17 school year, that funding gap reached $60 million.
Businesses are partnering to prepare tomorrow’s workforce in many ways, including through Step Up internships that train and place 1,600 Minneapolis young people in paid internships with more than 200 area employers every year. But we also need to make sure the schools where most kids in Minneapolis are educated have the funding they need. Without additional revenue, Minneapolis schools and students would experience additional staffing and program cuts.
There are more than 36,000 students in the Minneapolis School District. At a time when we need to be doing more to prepare the next generation to be ready to enter the workforce, this referendum is a critical opportunity for us to invest in student achievement. From the business community, we hope you will vote “yes” to help build a stronger future for our students and our region.
Jonathan Weinhagen is president and CEO of the Minneapolis Regional Chamber. Ravi Norman is CEO of Thor Companies and chair-elect of the Minneapolis Regional Chamber.