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Minneapolis-based journalist Sarah Lahmmovement, but the state is now awash in choice and disruption. She sees hope in the growing community school movement, which fosters bonds between schools and families instead of competition among schools for scarce resources.
In Minnesota, the Saint Paul Public Schools district has been left gasping for air as school choice schemes continue to wreak havoc on the district’sand, subsequently, its finances.
This district is one of the largest and mostin the state, if not the nation, with approximately 35,000 students representing a wide array of racial and ethnic backgrounds. Two-thirds of the district’s live in poverty, according to federal income guidelines, and almost 300 students in the district are listed as being homeless.
As a result of more school choice, in 2017,school-age children living in the city were not enrolled in the Saint Paul Public Schools district. Instead, they either attended a charter school in or near the city or chose to open-enroll into a neighboring school district.
Just two years later, in 2019, the exodus of families hadto more than 16,000. Today, more than of all students living in Saint Paul do not attend Saint Paul Public Schools, leaving the district in a constant state of contraction.
The district’s lagging enrollment numbers can be attributed to shrinking birthrates and “a rise in school choice options,” according to a recentby Star Tribune reporter Anthony Lonetree.
As a consequence of shrinking enrollments, district officials recently outlined a reorganizationthat calls for the closure of eight schools by the fall of 2022 “under a consolidation plan,” in an attempt to offload expensive infrastructure costs and improve academic options for students.
Charter school options abound in and around Saint Paul, and many represent the worst effects that come with applying unregulated, market-based reforms to public education.
There’s the handful ofcharter schools within the city limits, for example, that have long waiting lists and offer exclusive programming options, such as (a Montessori school), , and the Twin Cities German Immersion School. On the flip side of this are racially and economically isolated Saint Paul charter schools such as Hmong College Prep Academy, where 98 percent of the students enrolled are Asian and nearly 80 percent live in poverty, according to federal income guidelines.
Hmong College Prep Academy has been in therecently, thanks to a scandal that was a “hedge fund fiasco” by the Pioneer Press. The school is run by a husband-and-wife administrative team who invested $5 million of taxpayer money in a hedge fund, hoping it would provide a return that would help pay for the school’s expansion plans. Instead, the hedge fund investment apparently $4.3 million, leading to calls for the school’s superintendent, Christianna Hang, to be fired—something school officials to do. Hang finally submitted her in late October.
In short, the market-based approach to education reform that Minnesota helpedhas caused a great deal of disruption, segregation and chaos. In a Hunger Games-type setting, districts and charter schools have been forced to compete for students with white, middle and upper class largely coming out on top.
The end result, critics allege, is an increasinglypublic education landscape across the state, with no widespread boost in to show for it.
Thirty years after Minnesota’s charter school and open enrollment laws ushered in a mostlyera of school choice, many states—including —and federal officials may be turning their attention to the reform model offered by .
Full-service community schools offer a holistic approach to education that is about much more than students’ standardized test scores or the number of AP classes a school offers. Instead, this model seeks tothat also provide academic instruction to K-12, or even Pre-K-12, students.
In Minnesota, a handful of districts have adopted this model, often with impressive results.
The state’s longest running full-service community schools implementation is in, a very diverse suburb just north of Minneapolis. Since 2009, the city’s public school district has operated under the , providing such things as counseling and medical and dental services alongside the traditional academic offerings of the school system.
In recent months, Brooklyn Center’s community schools approach has been put to the test, due to both the ongoing pandemic and the unrest that erupted after George Floyd was murdered by former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin in 2020. In April 2021, as Chauvin’s murder trial was underway a few miles away in downtown Minneapolis, a white Brooklyn Center police officer shot and killed a young Black man namedduring a traffic stop.
This layering of trauma upon trauma might have broken the Brooklyn Center community apart, as largesoon took place outside the city’s police headquarters and caused disruption among residents—many of whom are recent immigrants and refugees. During this turmoil, school district staffers, already familiar with the needs of their community, were able to quickly mobilize on behalf of Brooklyn Center students and families thanks to the existing full-service community schools model.
It’s not just urban districts like Brooklyn Center that have benefited from this approach. In rural Deer River, Minnesota—where more than two-thirds of the district’s K-12 students, according to federal income guidelines, and 85 Deer River students are listed as being homeless—the school district the full-service model in recent years, thanks to startup grants from state and federal funding sources. Staff in Deer River are very happy with the full-service model, which allowed them to pivot during the pandemic and provide food, transportation services and other community-specific needs. A local media outlet even that the community schools approach enabled school district employees to survey families during the COVID-19 shutdown and them with things such as fishing poles and bikes to help them get through this challenging time.
Several other districts across the United States, from, to , have also adopted the full-service community schools approach, which is built around sharing power and uplifting communities rather than closing failing schools and shuttling students out of their neighborhoods through open-enrollment or charter school options.
public education through the proliferation of school choice schemes, including charter schools, has long been the preferred education reform model for politicians and wealthy philanthropists in the United States, and while the charter school industry has been able to score billions in federal funding, the full-service community schools model has instead been relegated to the sidelines.
That’s starting to change.
In February 2021, aof education advocacy groups, including the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, wrote an open letter to congressional leaders asking that more federal dollars be spent on full-service community schools. Most recently, the letter notes, Congress allocated $30 million in funding for such schools nationwide, a number the coalition deemed far too low to meet the “need and demand for this strategy.”
Now, the Biden administration hasdramatically bumping this funding up to $443 million, based on the support this model has received from people such as the current U.S. Education Secretary, Miguel Cardona. While giving on behalf of Biden’s proposed budget for the Department of Education, Cardona explained that full-service community schools honor the “role of schools as the centers of our communities and neighborhoods” and are designed to help students achieve academically by making sure their needs—for food, counseling, relationships, or a new pair of eyeglasses, and so on—are also being met.