The April 13 article by Star Tribune Reporter Alejandra Matos, “Minneapolis Urban League Under Fire for Potential Double Billing” was intentionally misleading and failed to share the true facts. We were quite disappointed to read Ms. Matos’ final product after spending hours with her and providing her with copies of contracts and reports. We even offered to make available students and program participants to tell the tremendous impact that the Urban League Academy Alternative School and the Urban League 13th Grade Program has had on their lives. Ms. Matos rejected our offer and ignored the pages of material we presented documenting our great work with these programs. Sadly, she chose to present a biased and cynical fairy tale masquerading as a news story.
The bottom line–The Minneapolis Urban League did not break any rules, did not “double bill”, and has not been “under fire” for violating our contracts with either Minneapolis Public Schools or the Minnesota Department of Education. This purposefully vague article ignored our positive outcomes that have been officially recognized by both the Minneapolis Public Schools and the Minnesota Department of Education.
Fact: The Urban League Academy is a 40-year partnership between the MUL and MPS. The Academy’s mission is twofold—giving students that are often the most marginalized in a traditional school setting another chance at graduation, as well as equipping them to earn a postsecondary credential leading to a living wage job. Our students are typically African American, below the poverty level, have failed at anywhere from three to five MPS high schools, and have faced trauma such as abuse or homelessness. Even with so much stacked against them, in 2014 67% of the students eligible to graduate walked across the stage and received the diploma they earned.
Fact: The 13th Grade Program is a college and career pathways readiness program for young adults age 17-24. This non-credit program focuses on the academic, technical, and soft skill building of disconnected unemployed or underemployed young adults not enrolled in a postsecondary institution. The Minnesota Department of Education (MDE), which is run by Commissioner Brenda Cassellius, reviewed and approved our work plan, including specific program goals and learning objectives on September 25, 2013. The MDE Program Manager assigned to monitor the 13th Grade Program met with MUL staff to review the program model on April 11, 2014 and did not express any dissatisfaction with our program.
Fact: Many 13th Grade participants have a diploma or GED, but have not yet identified a career pathway, and/or have basic skill deficits that make it challenging for them to master postsecondary and vocational coursework. Our July 2014 Interim Progress Report, which is required by the MDE, fully documented that 100% of our 13th Grade participants passed the program’s first phase requirements and 75% are now employed. Our assigned MDE Program Manager approved our 13th Grade Interim Report and the Supplementary Outcome Data on August 6, 2014.
Fact: Just two months ago, February 12, 2015, we received a financial desk audit conducted by MDE staff. This audit was “clean”—in other words, it did not contain any findings of deficiency or concerns. We shared this audit report with Ms. Matos, who chose to ignore it her article.
Fact: During the first report for the 13th Grade Pilot Program, MUL enrolled 89 participants. The Urban League Academy students who participated in the pilot program were primarily 11th and 12th Grade students who requested additional career development and college access educational services. These students participated in the program after school and gained no high school credit for their participation.
Fact: In the second year of the 13th Grade Program, there are 119 participants and 6 of them are students at the Urban League Academy. There is nothing in our contract that precludes these students from receiving extra counseling, jobs, career-building skills, or other wrap-around services our organization offers. Clearly, what these at risk young people need all the services we can muster to help them overcome the many obstacles in their path.
The 13th Grade Program should be lauded for being the successful program that it has become. Unfortunately, the Star Tribune has unwisely used its platform to sow further political disillusionment that ends up hurting young people in Minneapolis. Every day at the Minneapolis Urban League, we have young people come through our doors looking for an opportunity. Our traditional schools have failed them, leaving them more disconnected every day. Programs like the 13th Grade Program give them a new chance to get on a career track. Right now, we have participants in college who never thought they would achieve any more than a GED.
We would hope that a media organization like the Star Tribune would strive for fairness, fact-checking and balance; but sadly it appears the organization is more interested in tabloid headlines, shoddy research and sensational scare tactics.
Minneapolis Urban League constituents and the residents of our city deserve better.