Candidates for mayor of Minneapolis waded into the challenges facing the city’s struggling K-12 education system on Thursday, laying out ideas on matters ranging from the structure of the school board to disciplining students.
“We are demanding that the next mayor be a leader in education. Do not duck behind the city’s charter,” said Daniel Sellers, executive director of Ed Allies. “The mayor can use their influence to strengthen our schools, they can use their bully pulpit.”
The mayor of Minneapolis has no direct responsibility for education, but the issue is an urgent one for voters, and concerns about Minneapolis Public Schools have led to an exodus by families to other school districts.
Candidates in attendance included state Rep. Ray Dehn, Al Flowers, Council Member Jacob Frey, Mayor Betsy Hodges, Nekima Levy-Pounds and Aswar Rahman. Tom Hoch was not there.
Getting to specifics was difficult for the mayoral hopefuls, speaking at North High School before an audience of 250, as they tried to articulate ways City Hall could pitch in to help the school district and stem the tide of children leaving, an exodus that in Minneapolis has been led by black families.
The clearest ideas came from Rahman — a young, long-shot candidate — who proposed that the city budget should include $20 million in assistance for children who can’t afford day care or quality preschool, and $10 million for scholarships for low-income graduates to attend Minneapolis Community Technical College.
“Imagine what kind of substantial change that would have,” Rahman said. “All that is lacking is political will at the civic level, and I will bring that.”
He said he would find the money by taking it away from downtown interests.
Levy-Pounds said school resource officers should be removed from schools and called for one teacher and one parent on the school board, a “redesign” of the school system to make it more inclusive to children from diverse backgrounds and a move away from a “deficit-based narrative” about children of color.
Hodges said the fundamental question is whether the community believes children of color are capable of learning, and how the city will respond.
“Children of color are completely capable of learning in the same way that the children of white people are capable of learning,” she said, and touted her Cradle to K Cabinet focused on early childhood success.
Dehn argued that children are being criminalized in school, and also called for removing school resource officers from schools.
“We need to address stable housing, stable employment for their parents,” Dehn said. “The mayor’s role is really not in the classroom, the mayor’s role is all of those other things that affect the child’s life.”
Flowers repeatedly returned to the point that schools have a difficult task because children are misbehaving dramatically, and he doesn’t think schools and teachers should be handcuffed in the way they discipline students.
“It’s the toughest job we got in America right now,” he said.
Frey’s comments focused on the need for the mayor to keep neighborhoods safe so students can be ready to learn when they arrive at school. “We know that children of color are disproportionately exposed to trauma,” Frey said.
Frey and Levy-Pounds promised to work closely with the school board and park board.
No candidate backed a structural change, such as the mayor appointing school board members.
The mayor already has enough to do, said Rahman. “Adding the school board onto that, I don’t know what we’re looking to achieve there,” he said.