MN educators, community members take aim at state lawmakers to close achievement gap

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by Kate Snyder

With a projected budget surplus in Minnesota of almost $900 million, educators, faith leaders and community activists came together to launch the Minnesota Coalition of Education Equity to ensure these funds are invested in programs to close Minnesota’s alarming achievement gap for students of color.

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At the beginning of the legislative session, Education Minnesota members laid out the policy vision at a press event to launch the coalition. With only 10 weeks to persuade lawmakers, educators have organized, trained and lobbied at the capital as decisions are made about education policy and budget.

“We have created momentum toward education equity. This movement has taken the form of advocacy and policy-making by having teachers, staff, students, as well as community leaders speak to lawmakers to change policy so that we may have a better education system,” said Jose Alvillar-Hinojosa, a teacher in the Minneapolis public schools and Education Minnesota member, who was moved to this work because of his commitment to aid undocumented students in their pursuit of higher education. 

Jose Alvillar Hinojosa Education Equity 5.10.16 (2)Education Minnesota’s Education Policy Innovation Center released policy papers that address how to lessen opportunity gaps faced by children of color. Members of the coalition are asking lawmakers to make high-quality public preschool available to all families, expand and provide support for full-service wraparound community schools, recruit and retain more teachers of color and indigenous teachers, support programs to reduce the school-to-prison pipeline and find ways to relieve students of crippling higher education debt.

Minnesota has one of the worst graduation rates for minority students in the country. The minority student population is the fastest growing in Minnesota, and without policy intervention this achievement gap has serious ramifications for the schools, communities and the state.

As he spoke of how critical it is to close the achievement gap, Alvillar-Hinojosa shared his struggles as a student:

When I was growing up, I didn’t have many teachers who looked like me. Things could have gone either way, but I remember two teachers who really shaped my life. The first was my middle school teacher who taught me how to read in English, while also caring about my Spanish-language heritage. The second was a high school teacher who taught me about my culture and opened the door for me to question and challenge what I was being taught. I think about these teachers when I am in the classroom and hope that I connect to my students in the same way.

Minnesota lawmakers are in the final three weeks of their 10-week session.

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