Minneapolis, St. Paul, Duluth targeted for school funding cuts

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Mayors and top school officials from Minneapolis, St. Paul and Duluth spoke May 12 in front of the governor’s office at the state capitol. Their message was simple: proposed changes in school funding target the three biggest cities and will hurt the state’s most vulnerable students. [Video above: St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman.]

Duluth mayor Don Ness talked about his son James who, a year ago at the age of three and a half “had no words.” After enrolling in a special education/early education program last fall, he is now speaking in sentences, knows his ABCs, and can count to 12. That intervention means James will enter kindergarten ready to learn, instead of entering so far behind that he would be “almost guaranteed to fail,” said Ness.

“So many students need that little bit of assistance,” said Ness. “Every child should have an opportunity to succeed,” but the proposed funding cuts will mean that extra help is not available to children who need it.

The proposed education finance bill would place a cap on special education funding, meaning that districts would have to make cuts in other areas in order to maintain special education services. That could mean, for example, increases in class sizes or cuts to early childhood education in order to provide required special education services to children with disabilities.

Integration funding would also be cut, meaning less funding for programs in the state’s largest districts. That’s one of the changes that puts Minneapolis, St. Paul and Duluth squarely in the crosshairs for reduced funding.

Compensatory funding—additional money for districts with large numbers of students qualifying for free or reduced-price lunches—would also be cut. Again, that cut impacts the three large cities. .

On the other hand, the bill increases funding for districts with enrollments of 1,000 or less. That would include increased funding for charter schools, as each charter school is considered a district. 

Margaret Miller of the Minnesota PTA, spoke about reduced funding for schools serving at-risk children. As did other speakers, she focused on the education finance omnibus bills’ targeting of Minneapolis, St. Paul and Duluth for cuts, saying “A child’s public school education should not depend on their zip code.”

Cuts to the three cities include cuts to integration funding. Duluth Public Schools CFO Bill Hanson said the single largest expenditure of that city’s integration aid funds goes to the Parents And Students Succeeding (PASS) program, which has increased graduation rates by targeted interventions for older students in danger of dropping out, and their parents. Taking money from integration funding, he said, will increase the achievement gap and ultimately cost the state more.

Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak described double digit increases in public school graduation rates in that city over the past few years, and said cuts will threaten the progress that has been made.

“Every day, every week, every month, every year, the American dream comes true in the schools of the city of St. Paul,” said St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman, warning that the proposed bill “breaks covenant with the children of the State of Minnesota.”