Imagine teachers as a family trapped in a burning house. They stand in front of windows, waving their arms and blocking 911 lines with calls for firefighters. They did what they could to put out the flames with the tools at their disposal, but it’s too hot, it’s going too fast.
They will be engulfed, along with all the children inside, if they don’t employ a different strategy to put out the fire.
Some of them are about to run screaming for the exits. A recent National Education Association poll showed that 55% of teachers plan to leave the profession sooner than expected, and conversations with union leaders across the country suggest such exits have started with atypical mid-term resignations. ‘year.
And why wouldn’t they all leave? They can’t keep pouring a bucket of water here and there and watching the house burn.
In their latest contract negotiations, Minneapolis teachers joined their peers across the river in St. Paul in an approach known as “negotiating for the common good.” Union leaders widened the scope of negotiations beyond benefits and wages — things that could be seen as narrow and self-serving — to community concerns ranging from class size limits to increased investments in health care. mentality to relations with financial institutions.
Unfortunately, given the isolated manner in which the contracts are negotiated, one by one, biennium by biennium, budget stretch by budget stretch, the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers (MFT) and Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) are at an impasse. familiar.
In 1971, Minnesota lawmakers gathered for the longest special session in state history. For 157 days, state officials came together to simultaneously reduce schools’ reliance on local property taxes and strengthen state support for public education.
Ultimately, what became known as the Minnesota Miracle shifted the tax burden from property owners to the state’s general fund. Schools received the same amount of funding as before Miracle, but local property taxes dropped.
Homeowners across the state felt relief, and because the state — rather than local districts — bore the burden of school support, funds could be redistributed to students and districts that needed it most.
With this policy change, Minnesota has become a national model of progressive school funding.
The intended effects of the Miracle, however, did not last long. At first, the policy ensured that more of a school’s funding came from the state’s general fund, so that regardless of increases in property taxes or a community’s values, students at the entire state would be guaranteed a solid public education.
Unfortunately, over time, property taxes in many places have increased, and some localities with the will and the means have begun to supplement state funds. Communities that did not enjoy such population and property privileges were left behind. Therefore, today, as in the 1970s, many Minnesotans probably feel both tax-burdened and disillusioned with school performance.
But unlike 1971, today we face a multi-billion dollar surplus that we can and should spend on education.
It’s the best investment we can make because it’s one of the few policy areas where research shows that “we all do better, when we all do better,” to quote the late Senator Paul Wellstone.
And as we consider not just how to spend a surplus, but how to permanently allocate more funds to public education, we need to be mindful of where and how taxpayers’ money is being spent. For example, we should examine the mismatch between funds allocated to special education and the costs of special education services and fully fund the latter using federal and state dollars.
We should also review funding for districts with declining enrollment, because as students leave and infrastructure and teaching populations age, education actually becomes more expensive, not less.
Finally, the remuneration of teachers is a real issue. If we are to make this profession an attractive profession, especially for more teachers of color, we must be clear about the financial incentives this will require.
When teachers in two of the largest public school districts in the state — two of the districts that serve a disproportionate number of students of color and children living in poverty — are willing to go days or weeks without pay to provide additional support to children and adults, we should take their cries for help seriously.
The house is burning. If we don’t act now to get to the root of the problem, we will lose teachers and the potential of our students. And those who do not reach the exits will ignite.