Education budget makes needed investments in kids’ health and wellbeing

Photo courtesy of UnidosUS.

From a longtime resident and a recent transplant, these two nonprofit CEOs are excited to celebrate the passage and signing of the new education budget.

This legislative session was one of significant progress for our state’s youth.

It was also an historic year for representation of queer, trans and nonbinary legislators — demonstrating to young people that they can become anything.

This legislation provides more than $2 billion in much-needed additional spending, going towards improving health, wellbeing, and academic outcomes for the youngest Minnesotans. These bold investments will provide crucial support and resources to kids as they learn, grow, and build their future — as well as Minnesota’s. 

This investment also comes at a critical time for our youth. In recent years, much emphasis has been placed on learning loss — a very real phenomenon that both exposed and exacerbated some of our deepest institutional inequities. In the case of the pandemic, the blessing was in the lesson. 

COVID-19 shone a light on the importance of young people’s health and wellbeing, which is foundational to academic success and arguably just as urgent given the backdrop of a youth mental health crisis. The ongoing ramifications of social isolation, distance learning, and a racial reckoning has weighed heavily on Minnesota’s kids and adults alike. And for our children and teens who live in marginalized communities, those impacts are often more pronounced. 

That is why we believe this education bill provides a big step forward in addressing the complex obstacles facing kids and teens, including mental health challenges, eating disorders, and the impacts of social media use on young brains. 

The Legislature’s work this year will provide meals and menstrual products to kids who need them; end exclusionary discipline for the youngest learners; increase the number of teachers of color and Native American teachers; and provide schools with additional mental health supports.

These are prime examples of how taking holistic approaches to supporting youth can help improve their lives in myriad ways. Smart, forward-thinking policies will improve life not just for Minnesota’s young women and girls, but all youth across the state.

By ensuring all our kids — no matter their background — receive adequate nutrition, the health products they need, opportunities to recreate and socialize, and role models who look like them, we can begin to address Minnesota’s deep racial disparities and raise a generation of kids who will fight racism and make the world a better place.

The education bill represents an important and timely step forward for Minnesota’s kids and all of us who care for and support them. We extend our sincere gratitude, admiration, and respect for the lawmakers, staff, and advocates who have championed much of this legislation for years, if not decades, and worked tirelessly to bring it to the finish line. 

At this critical time for Minnesota’s youth, we hope state lawmakers will build on this progress when they come together in February for the next legislative session, continuing to invest boldly in our kids’ health and wellbeing as a foundation for academic and life success. 

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Shelley Carthen Watson
Shelley Carthen Watson

Shelley Carthen Watson has served as CEO of YWCA Minneapolis since August 2021. Shelley is also a nationally-renowned labor and employment law expert and came to YWCA Minneapolis from the University of Minnesota, where she served as senior associate general counsel. Prior to her role at the University of Minnesota, Shelley was a partner with the law firm of Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi. She was the first African American woman to become a partner in a large law firm in the state of Minnesota.

Marisa C. Williams
Marisa C. Williams

Marisa Williams is CEO of Girl Scouts River Valleys. Previously, she was North Hills Affordable Housing (HEARTH) in Pittsburgh. Prior to that, Marisa spent five years at YMCA of Greater Pittsburgh as the regional executive director.