By Sen. Sandy Pappas
columnistThe COVID-19 pandemic has upended our public schools over the past two years. Teachers are stressed, students are dealing with mental health issues, and parents have taken on extra responsibilities at home to help educate their children.
Lack of resources has left schools with crowded classrooms, unaffordable special education costs, and a lack of counselors to provide students with the support they need. To make matters worse, teachers are departing the profession at an alarming rate because they are burnt out and lack support. Students cannot learn in this environment. That’s why I’m fighting to provide schools with the resources they need.
Teachers, parents, and students across the state are all telling us the same thing: they need additional funding to hire on-site counselors, reduce class sizes, and provide funds to recruit teachers and retain the ones we currently have.
Funding for schools was once an area of bipartisan cooperation at the legislature. Unfortunately, it has become highly partisan in recent years. What I’m hearing from my community is that we should use our state’s $9.25 billion surplus to invest in the things our schools need.
Right now, the Saint Paul Public School District is swamped with special education costs. These costs take away funding that could be invested in other areas. If special education and English Language Learners (ELL) programs were properly funded, it would free up millions of dollars that schools could use to hire teachers, expand mental health resources and improve school facilities. That’s why it’s so important that the state begins to take this burden off our schools.
Minnesota also needs to confront its achievement gap. Communities of color have been disproportionately harmed by the pandemic. There are already existing programs, such as Grow Your Own, which helps identify future teachers at a young age, and the Collaborative Urban Educators Program, which provides scholarships for college students seeking to enter the profession. Investing in these programs and other educational initiatives will not only help students of color find careers but also create safer and healthier communities.
As the legislature works to appropriate our historic budget surplus, we must focus more resources toward public education by increasing salaries for teachers and expanding support for education support professionals (ESPs). Education has always been critically important to Minnesota families, communities and our economy. By making these necessary investments, we will take an important step toward keeping our schools strong now and into the future.
Contact info: 95 University Avenue W.
Minnesota Senate Bldg., Room 2205
St. Paul, MN 55155; 651-296-1802