Minneapolis Public Schools face a series of crises. Some were thrust upon us, like the COVID-19 pandemic. Others were created by years of underfunding and missteps by the district.
Communities of color have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic and are a majority of the families in our district. That's why the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers was at the bargaining table months ago with solutions to keep our students and educators safe. Now, thanks to investments from the American Rescue Plan (ARP), we have the opportunity to address some of these crises head-on.
MPS is set to receive $159 million in federal funds intended to address the myriad issues brought on by the pandemic. As educators, our first goal is to keep our students healthy for a safe and successful school year. Unfortunately, Minneapolis Public Schools' leadership wants to divert resources away from the health and safety of students and educators to paper over the other cracks in the system they've created.
These cracks largely were caused by the Comprehensive District Design plan, which produced mass instability for families, a significant enrollment drop and a direct negative impact on students' learning.
We cannot compromise the health and learning of our kids to bail out the district's past mistakes.
Superintendent Ed Graff was tasked with appointing a committee to make recommendations on how to spend the federal funds. He used that authority to appoint representatives from outside private groups, who have often been hostile toward our schools and educators. He even appointed someone who has openly called for a boycott of Minneapolis Public Schools. Not surprisingly, this led directly to warped priorities for investments in our district.
While thousands of our students are having trouble getting to and from school, the plan recommends only 1.53% of these funds be used to solve the busing issue. The plan recommends spending significant money on outside, private human resource consultants. Meanwhile, educators proposed a simple recruitment strategy for school professionals: Pay them all a living wage.
The Graff plan creates an alternative teacher licensure program, even though 51% of the licensed teachers in Minnesota aren't currently teaching.
This is reckless mismanagement of the federal investment that represents our last, best hope for some semblance of a normal, healthy, productive school year. We don't need to look any further than our counterparts across the river in St. Paul to see what we could do with this investment. In St. Paul, educators are making real, meaningful investments in solving their busing issues, while ours are far worse. Perhaps more important, St. Paul schools have done a much better job of listening to the educators and other staff on the ground about their students' needs. They're sending tens of millions more to the schools to solve the unique issues caused by the pandemic and lagging funding.
Our teachers and educational support professionals are closest to the students. We worked through a pandemic last year, and we know what works and what does not. We know that students need online options at the school level, including educators focused on distance learning for students who can't attend class in person. That need became urgent when widespread COVID-19 exposure forced Edison High School into distance learning. More schools may follow.
Instead of paying consultants, MPS could reduce class sizes and lessen the risk of spreading of the virus that causes COVID-19. Cramming 40 or more students into a classroom with no possibility for social distancing isn't safe. Filling the 150 vacant educational support professional positions will prevent the burnout that claims too many good educators.
As parents, we understand the strain families feel right now. Quarantines after exposure are a fact of life this fall, but the lack of adequate online academic support for students is a policy choice. The daily anxiety caused by the shortage of bus drivers is shared by parents nearly everywhere, but in Minneapolis, school administrators aren't prioritizing the problem.
As educators, we've asked for more mental health supports like school counselors and other licensed professionals, smaller class sizes, N95 masks for all and more.
We are $5 billion underfunded in public education in the state of Minnesota. The ARP is a chance to fund supports that our Minneapolis students have lost over the years, but need and deserve. Unfortunately, district leadership looks like it's willing to throw that all away to cover up the crises of its own making in our schools.
Greta Callahan is president of the teacher chapter of the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers and Education Support Professionals.