Providing adequate school funds in this time of COVID-19 must be a legislative priority.
Education in the year of the coronavirus pandemic has left serious concerns for lost learning. How well did on-line teaching compensate for lost in-person classroom instruction? Has Minnesota’s initiative for all-day kindergarten and increased opportunities for preschoolers been damaged? Have high school juniors and seniors lost ground preparing for post-secondary learning? Have we lost ground in our commitment to close the socio-economic achievement gap?
The answers to these questions appear to be yes for some students, perhaps many, but we do not have hard data answers. Because data is not available or cited that shows how much students have lost academically, we do not know the extent of the need that exists. Our state has been devoted to data to address the health problems caused by the pandemic but seems woefully short in measurable information regarding educational needs.
Nevertheless, we need to address our students’ needs and offer a well-planned, funded and delivered coronavirus-response school program. For example, the Minnesota Legislature is now debating the funding and structure for this summer’s programs as well as additional learning time and programs for the regular school year.
We believe immediate legislative action on these pandemic-related educational issues is essential and it should be a multi-year program so learning in the upcoming school year as well as the summer of 2022 can be anticipated and not contingent on additional legislative action.
Source of funding is a concern. Federal COVID-19 dollars will be coming from the American Rescue Plan and may be used for summer school, but the specifics of that funding aren’t available. We think the commitment to fund should be made now based on the need and the source of funding priorities should be to use federal dollars when available and state dollars only if necessary.
Distribution of funding is a concern. COVID-19 dollars are allocated to districts based on Elementary and Secondary Education Title I compensatory education formulas — that is, schools with the higher concentrations of poverty indicated by free-and-reduced lunch counts receive higher amounts. The Minneapolis and St. Paul districts received $95 million to $100 million each, while districts comparable in size like Anoka-Hennepin received less than a fifth that amount.
Smaller suburban districts and out-state districts received far less. Forest Lake, Elk River and St. Francis combined, for example, received less than 5% of the amount allocated to either Minneapolis or St. Paul. The disparities led Rep. Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, House minority leader, to note the distribution isn’t fair to smaller districts and the money to Minneapolis and St. Paul never seems to be enough nor does it close the achievement gap.
We believe there is some justification for the concentration of more dollars in districts with high concentrations of poverty based on the need to close the socio-economic achievement gap. However, that distribution model can be unfair to needy students in outstate schools as well as some metro districts. Once again, we are faced with free-and-reduced lunch counts serving as a surrogate for educational need with little supporting data.
Funding needs to be defined and allocated to ensure all school districts receive a baseline allocation. This Editorial Board supports actions that will close the achievement gap for low-income students, but we need better educational metrics than poverty levels to close the gap. Summer school and COVID-19 related program funding must be adequate and equitable for all school districts, be they central city, metro area or outstate.
The Minnesota Department of Education and the state need to provide data and accountability to the program, following up with specific measurements. MDE did not foresee this issue, or at least did not track it with data, but it should have worked with the school districts to identify needs and track outcomes. We should expect more complete data and clearly stated expectations going forward.
— An editorial from the APG of East Central Minnesota Editorial Board. Reactions are welcome. Send to: firstname.lastname@example.org.