The Potluck

Minnesota teachers’ union pushing for multibillion-dollar education investment

By: - November 10, 2022 4:34 pm

Catina Taylor, Minneapolis Federation of Teachers educational support professional, left, Education Minnesota President Denise Specht, center, and Chole Swanson, media specialist in the Wrenshall School District, at the Capitol on Thursday, Nov. 10. Photo by Michelle Griffith/Minnesota Reformer.

Minnesota’s teachers’ union is pushing lawmakers to make a multibillion-dollar investment in the state’s public schools now that education- and union-friendly Democrats have full control of state government.

Education Minnesota, which played a big role in the DFL’s electoral victory, said on Thursday that it will lobby legislative leaders and Gov. Tim Walz — a former teacher — for billions to increase teacher retention and recruitment, improve student mental health and bolster teachers’ pensions.

Union President Denise Specht said the union doesn’t have specific policies or dollar amounts drafted yet, but pledged to “hold accountable all the politicians who promised full funding on the campaign trail.”

“We’re talking about big things, so we’re not going to accept small,” Specht said. “We know that there is a big price tag, but there are big expectations on our schools and the staff who are working there, so we’re going to be asking for those bold asks.”

The union also wants the funding to go toward hiring more special education staff, substitute teachers and bus drivers. The new spending will help students emotionally and academically in the face of falling test scores following the pandemic.

Specht said the union wants lawmakers to “fully fund” education, a term often used by Walz.

What does that mean? “We will know if we have fully funded schools when we don’t have any more levies on the ballot,” she said.

Until then, the union can celebrate a good night Tuesday for districts that went to the voters for money. Like DFL candidates, local districts had unexpected successes with their levy votes. Out of the 34 school districts who had operating levies on their ballots, 25 districts passed at least one question, according to the Minnesota School Board Association. This a 73% passage rate, compared to 48% in 2020.

In 2019, Specht proposed an additional $4.3 billion in spending over two years due to inflation and enrollment growth. This was before the pandemic exacerbated academic challenges.

Fears of a tide of right-wing school board members didn’t pan out either. Education Minnesota endorsed 116 school board candidates across the state for Tuesday’s election, and 71 won their races.

The Minnesota Parents Alliance, a right-wing nonprofit created by the Center of the American Experiment, said nearly 50 of its endorsed candidates won in their races.

Specht and other educators said on Thursday that those candidates advocated for eliminating LGBTQ education and inclusion in schools. Right-wing candidates also campaigned on abolishing so-called critical race theory. CRT is academic-level scholarship not typically taught in K-12 schools, but has been weaponized by conservatives to spark outrage about teaching students the role of white supremacy in U.S. history and topics around diversity.

She said it was unfortunate the candidates ran on those platforms, but she hoped communities could come together to do what’s best for students.

“We’re all better off as Minnesotans when we all do what’s right for every student with no exceptions,” Specht said.

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Michelle Griffith
Michelle Griffith

Michelle Griffith covers Minnesota politics and policy for the Reformer, with a focus on marginalized communities. Most recently she was a reporter with The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead in North Dakota where she covered state and local government and Indigenous issues.