The teachers’ strike amid state surplus

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Thousands of Minneapolis educators are on strike demanding higher wages, smaller class sizes and more mental health support for students in a district facing a multimillion-dollar budget shortfall.

But the local dispute over finances has also raised questions about another prize pool: the state’s record $9.3 billion surplus.

On Wednesday, the union walked out on the lawn of the State Capitol. On Thursday, a small group of parents and advocates, unrelated to the union, gathered outside the governor’s residence to demand more state funding for education. And Minneapolis public schools also said they would welcome more state funding.

“That’s what the legislature needs to pay attention to — it’s not a one-time conversation happening in one school district,” said Denise Specht, president of the state teachers’ union Education Minnesota, which endorsed this month Governor Tim Walz’s candidacy for election. “[Legislators] have a role to play here because it’s a statewide problem.”

Still, state aid is unlikely to come quickly or easily – lawmakers in the divided legislature are squabbling over how to spend the surplus during an election year, and many groups are vying for a share money.

Senate Republicans are pushing back on Walz’s proposed supplemental budget, which includes a 2% increase in education funding per student in fiscal year 2023.

In a statement, Senate Education Committee Chairman Roger Chamberlain, R-Lino Lakes, noted that the state budget approved in 2021 included increased funding for schools “totalling more than $1 billion. more state school aid”. And, he said, Minnesota schools also received $2.6 billion in federal COVID relief funds.

“Despite the increase in funding already available to schools, students are still falling behind and many parents are choosing different education options for children,” Chamberlain wrote, saying this cycle will result in less funding for schools. who bleed the pupils.

Financial problem

The number of students attending Minneapolis Public School has dropped in recent years.

During the 2017-2018 school year, the district enrolled more than 36,600 students. This year, that number is 28,700. The loss since last school year has been greater than expected by the district, forcing it to adjust its tax levy downwards.

The district projects that enrollment will continue to decline by at least 1.5 percent each year for the next five years.

Leaders expressed hope that over time, the changes made as a result of the district’s comprehensive overhaul — which was approved in spring 2020 and went into effect this fall — will attract more families to the district, but said the resulting gains would not come in the short term.

And fewer students also probably means less money from the state, which distributes per-student funding.

The base per-student funding formula — about $6,700 this year — has grown about 2% a year since 2015, but school officials and education advocacy groups in Minnesota say it’s not keeping up. the rate of inflation.

Amid declining student numbers and financial pressures, the Minneapolis District is forecasting a budget shortfall of $21.5 million, despite using $75 million in one-time federal relief funds.

Superintendent Ed Graff said “difficult” conversations about layoffs and school closings were likely. Next year’s budget foresees the elimination of 250 teaching positions. A quarter of those teachers are people of color, the district said.

One of the priorities of the Minneapolis Public Schools Legislative Agenda this year is to “ensure that the state fully funds the public portion of special education services.”

State and federal assistance does not cover the full cost of these programs, and the district draws from its general fund to support the state-mandated special education services it provides to 5,700 students. . The district also pointed to the lack of state funding for services for its 5,800 English language learners.

On its website, the district writes that the state surplus presents an “opportunity to address the chronic underfunding of public education.”

On Friday, district chiefs declined to comment further on the matter.

In search of a “lasting solution”

Adriana Cerrillo, a Minneapolis school board member who attended the rally outside the governor’s residence on Thursday, said she doesn’t expect either political party to agree to an additional injection of dollars for Minnesota schools.

But years of education underfunding contributed to the strike, she said.

“We have to understand that there’s not enough money on the table right now,” Cerillo said. “It’s a long-term problem and we have to be strategic to find a lasting solution.”

Negotiations between the district and the union continued throughout the weekend.

Union leaders say they don’t disagree with the need for more money. They say the fight is about priorities set by officials at district and state capitol headquarters.

Shaun Laden, president of the Educational Support Professionals Chapter of the Minneapolis Teachers’ Federation, pointed to the strike-prevention agreement between the St. Paul District and his union — saying it proves that an urban district can find a way to address union concerns.

“We’re not saying the MPS has all the public funding it needs,” Laden said. “What we’re saying is Minneapolis needs to use its funding differently.”

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