Members of the LAC want to stabilize education funding; more support
The Hopkins Legislative Action Coalition hosted many of the legislators in the Hopkins district at this year’s in-person legislative breakfast Jan. 20 at Hopkins West Junior High.
Members of the Hopkins LAC shared the district’s legislative priorities with local legislators through presentations, testimonials and videos. Hopkins shared its top three priorities for the next legislative session, including focusing on reforming and stabilizing education funding, supporting students and restoring local control.
Eight of the district’s nine legislators were in attendance, including Rep. Patty Acomb (DFL-Minnetonka), Rep. Mike Freiberg (DFL-Golden Valley), Rep. Larry Kraft (DFL-St. Louis Park), Rep. Laurie Pryor (DFL-Minnetonka), Rep. Cheryl Youakim (DFL-Hopkins), Sen. Steve Cwodzinski (DFL-Eden Prairie), Sen. Kelly Morrison (DFL-Deephaven) and Sen. Ann Rest (DFL-New Hope).
The district currently totals 6,643 students as of Oct. 1, according to the presentation. Its annual budget total is about $113,000,000.
“We agree with the governor that now is the time. Now is the time to invest in our student’s future and in Minnesota’s future, and moving forward into 2023, Hopkins Public Schools seeks to strengthen and simplify the strategies that work best during the past few pandemic years. We ask the governor’s office and the Minnesota legislature to partner with us to immediately accelerate funding and to allow school districts to expand much-needed services for our scholars and our families,” said Michele Pasko, co-chair of the LAC.
According to the presentation, strengthening and stabilizing funding could be achieved by linking the basic formula to education, reforming early education funding,and eliminating the compensatory funding qualification.
Pasko shared that pre-k through grade 12 education funding has not kept up with inflation and said they were behind by about $1,000 or more for each student.
“We can’t pay paras the proper dollar amount to keep support staff in our schools and pay them a living wage. Our students suffer. We have to cut, cut, cut, cut because we’re not keeping up with basic inflation. That’s been our biggest problem,” she said, adding that the district, alongside other entities, are asking for 5% more with the education formula at the very least.
Pasko also listed a variety of reasons why the compensatory funding qualification does not work, including reasons like students or families simply foregoing student lunch or never filling out the required forms again. The compensatory funding qualification is based on the number of students applying for the program, which Pasko said was not an accurate number for how many students need it.
The district’s next priority, supporting students, could be achieved through expanding and stabilizing mental health support, funding public school nutrition programs and eliminating the Special Education Cross Subsidy, according to the presentation.
School Board Vice Chair Shannon Andreson and LAC member, who presented this priority, said, “When my eldest was going here, we had some significant events that deeply impacted this community and the ways in which our surrounding neighbors wrapped their arms around this school and helped us get through was significant. And we’re trying to keep those supports in place because we know that mental health is ongoing, it’s important and it should be a priority, not only for people in the schools but for our entire community.”
In the middle of the presentation, announcements went on over the intercom for the school’s weekly Friday dancing. Some of the breakfast attendees participated, with Andreson jokingly calling it “a mental health support.”
For the district’s last legislative priority, restoring local control, this could be achieved by legislators investing in Reimagine Minnesota, updating and reforming cumbersome requirements for school boards as well as auditing the Minnesota Department of Education.
Hopkins School Board Treasurer and LAC Co-chair Steve Adams presented this portion of the presentation and said, “I would urge lawmakers to consider re-investing and continuing to invest in the Reimagine Minnesota principals.”
Adams provided content from Reimagine Minnesota, which is a document created in 2016 by a group of metropolitan superintendents outlining nine principles that, if followed, would address and reduce education disparities. He said the district was “aggressively” hiring more educators of color, which was one of Reimagine Minnesota’s principles.
Questions from legislators
After the presentation, legislators were given the opportunity to ask the LAC or any of the district staff in the room questions. Here are some of the highlights.
Kraft asked about the district’s local control issue raised in the district’s platform. Adams said if the district could shift more of the funding responsibility to the state that it would fix many of the issues facing school districts. According to Adams, school districts have never gone back to the level of funding that they had in 2003 and currently they are receiving $1,200 less this year than they received in 2003.
Acomb asked about the continuation of online learning for students and resources it needed. Pasko said that the district currently had 130 students doing online learning. An important element of this was auditing the Minnesota Department of Education because students were not able to learn in-person and learn online. Instead students had to choose one or the other, and were not provided lunch if they chose to learn online. She said the regulations “just aren’t made for this world, for the 21st century.”
Cwodzinski said, “I hope you guys are seeing between the governor and the legislator how fortunate the public schools are right now. I think we’re on a wave that’s gonna be just so, the energy level at the capitol right now. I don’t even know what the right metaphor is. You could cut it with a knife? I don’t know. But it’s just such an exciting place to be right now. The enthusiasm and the energy among my colleagues on education committees in both houses and it’s all positive, it’s all upbeat. We’re gonna do wonderful things for our students and our educators.”
One issue he was looking at resolving was teacher safety in the classroom with students who may be violent or have had a previous history of being violent, which is something he has heard from many teachers.
“How do we balance that? How do we make our adults feel safe going to work and being at work... because the kids aren’t going to learn if they’re sent home,” he said.
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