Saint Paul’s Hasty Mainstreaming Rollout: A Chat with School Board Candidate Jess Banks

[Central high school on Marshall Avenue.]Saint Paul’s school board is often viewed as less contentious than its Minneapolis counterpart. Fewer families have left the city for charter schools and suburban options, and the School Board meetings have seemed more cooperative between administratos, teachers, and parents. But that might be changing, as the School Board race has become very heated this year. Issues like superintendent pay, the district’s new “mainstreaming” inititive (placing most students in the same classrooms), the (oft-maligned) iPad program, and contract requirements aimed at improving student-teacher ratios. On top of the close race, Superintendent Silva’s recent headlines about a job offer in Florida place added pressure on the election as a test of party support for different kinds of reform.Jess Banks is one of the candidates challenging the incumbent board members this year, and seeking the endorsement at this weekend’s City DFL Convention. Continue Reading

Student debt is a problem for everyone

Bring up student loans anywhere near a college campus and you’re sure to get more than a little nervous laughter. Despite their commonality — 61 percent of University of Minnesota students graduated with debt in 2013 — little is known about student loans.  How big are they, really? How many University fees, outside of tuition, are students accountable for? And how are we ever going to get out of debt? When you enroll in college, those answers aren’t easily found.  Minnesota lawmakers have introduced several bills this session that seek to make the answers to these questions more accessible. Continue Reading

Somali students protest hostile racial school climate

Somalis are under attack in St. Cloud because of their race (they are Black), their religion (they are Muslims), and their immigration/refugee status (they are perceived to be untrustworthy aliens).In the 1990s Somalis began to trickle into the city, and now they are probably the largest Black ethnic group, surpassing the number of Black Americans. Like Black Americans, they also experience intense racial and cultural animus. As compared with the White population, Somalis are sharply different in four categories: race (White European vs. Black African), religion (Christian vs. Continue Reading

‘We can’t do this without you!’ Mayor Hodges sets her agenda in State of the City address

“One Minneapolis” was the central theme in Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges’s State of the City Address on April 2, at the American Swedish Institute, where she discussed how the community working together can address challenges the city of Minneapolis is currently facing.“The genius we have now, right here, will make us the great city of the 21st century if we are willing to do what it takes to make sure we leave none of that genius on the table,” Hodges said.In her second State of the City Address, Hodges made a call-to-action to encourage community leaders to become graduation coaches for young men. She wants to narrow the gap between low-income and middle class families through collective bargaining in the private sector. She wants to raise the minimum wage and launch the Minneapolis Climate Champs Challenge, which will provide steps and tips as to how citizens in Minneapolis can help stop climate change.“Minneapolis, the question before us now is how much genius are we going to leave on the table?” Hodges asked.Hodges set her sights on early education, bridging the divide when it comes to income inequality and addresses climate change.Education In order to efficiently use the genius of people in the community, Hodges said it starts when a child in the community is young. When it comes to youth development, Hodges cited the fact that 80% of a person’s brain is developed by the age of 3.“What we do for our kids early on matters,” Hodges said.The city will budget $1 million for housing so many children who are low-income, could have stable living conditions. She said the focus on child development is to make sure they are ready for the workforce; however, she also wants them to be engaged in their community.“We need our kids to be more than workforce ready, we needs kids who are ready to build one Minneapolis. Continue Reading

‘Education savings account’ for students with disabilities? Or ‘voucher?’

Public schools are required by state and federal law to accept students with disabilities and to make appropriate accommodations for their learning.So when a district – despite its best of intentions – fails to meet the individual educational needs of such students, where are the students and their families to turn?That’s an issue Amy Christensen-Bruce grappled with for years before she discovered Academy of Whole Learning. The private school located in St. Louis Park primarily serves students with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Christensen-Bruce said it was the first school that was able gain her confidence that the unique needs of her now fourth-grade son – who has autism – were being met.Whether he was enrolled at a local public school or a charter school, Christensen-Bruce said her child struggled to learn at the rate she knew he was capable of.“A lot of the time, there were other kids (with special needs) that would need more attention than him, so he would get lost in the shuffle,” Christensen-Bruce said. “The help that my son needed, it just wasn’t getting done in the public schools.”Christensen-Bruce believes Academy of the Whole Learning is “getting it done.” But she realizes that because it is classified as a private school, enrollment opportunities are limited for many other families who could benefit from its unique learning environment that specializes in accommodating and adapting to the needs of children with autism.That’s why Christensen-Bruce supports HF1529, which would establish an education savings account for students with disabilities to use to attend schools that meet their needs.Sponsored by Rep. Kelly Fenton (R-Woodbury), the so-called “Education Savings Account for Students with Special Needs Act” aims to allow parents to more flexibly use the per pupil education funding allocated to their children with special needs.Fenton said the bill would give parents of children with special needs the power to choose the best educational options for their kids.These options include flexibility for parents to choose education-related therapies, tuition and fees at a nonpublic school specializing in a therapy or disability, textbooks and tutoring, or other education resources.The bill contains a provisions that would allow for the Department of Education to monitor and track expenses of the account to ensure the funds are being spent in accordance with the language of the proposed legislation.In Christensen-Bruce’s case, the provisions would alleviate the financial burden on her family for her son’s enrollment at Academy of Whole Learning. Continue Reading

Clergy: “The Few” Still Suppressing Voting Without Help Of Voter ID

Minnesota’s battle over voter photo ID may be over, but it’s not forgotten. In 2012 Republicans put a constitutional amendment on Minnesota’s general election ballot barring citizens without a photo ID from voting. It was defeated. Reverend Paul Slack says voter photo ID is just one of many ways those who control the reins of power are trying to prevent more people from voting.  

“I think (voter photo ID) is about power, in people wanting to maintain power. Continue Reading

Brief Analyzes Political Impact of Projected Eligible 2016 Voters of Color in Key Battleground States

The political implications of the nation’s changing demographics are already being felt in many states across the country. These implications are addressed in a new issue brief, “The Changing Face of America’s Electorate,” released today by the Center for American Progress, which examines 2016 election trends and patterns for voters of color.The CAP analysis identifies what the electorate is projected to look like in 2016 for key battleground states—including vital states such as Ohio, Florida, Colorado, Virginia, and North Carolina—and estimates the racial and ethnic makeup of the 2016 eligible voting population. Based on those projections, the brief demonstrates the potential political impact of electoral demographic changes through two election simulations.“Demographic changes have only become more acute in the United States since 2012,” said Vanessa Cárdenas, Vice President of Progress 2050 at the Center for American Progress. “As people of color become a larger share of states’ electorates, the political implications for both political parties are evident: To win the presidency and many of the U.S. Senate races in the 2016 election, candidates will need to substantially engage voters of color.”The first simulation explored in the CAP analysis looks at how the demographic shifts will affect the 2016 election if voters across all racial and ethnic groups turn out and have the same party preferences as they did in 2012. In the second simulation, CAP holds voter turnout rates constant from 2012 but assumes that racial and ethnic groups revert to party preferences they showed in 2004. Continue Reading

Outreach director brings diversity to Generation Next team

After meeting with Generation Next staff, it was obvious to me that while everyone had a significant role in the program’s success, the role of Jeremiah Ellis, director of outreach and partnerships, was most essential. As stated in a previous article (“Five big steps across the achievement gap,” MSR, Dec. 11, 2014), Victor Cedeño, director of networks and education policy for Generation Next, attributed a huge portion of their success to “a powerful table of people who are coming together saying, ‘We want to be responsible for this. We want to do whatever it takes.’”

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