2023 Stars and Steps Forward

The following column originally appeared in a number of APG of East Central Minnesota newspapers during December, 2023

 

2023 Stars and Steps Forward

 

This week’s column celebrates educators, community members and students who helped make Minnesota a better place. While challenges remain, the efforts described below are examples of what has been and can be accomplished.

Legislators listened to many Minnesotans with good ideas.

For example, a 2022 statewide poll found that 86% of Minnesotans felt the Legislature should make financial literacy a priority. P.J. Wiggin, a Forest Lake Area Public Schools teacher and president of the Minnesota Council for the Social Studies, worked with businesspeople led by Steve Lear, of St. Louis Park, and Jason Kley, of Bloomington; Julie Bunn of the Minnesota Council on Economic Education; and students such as Alejandro Caceres-Aranda, a St. Louis Park graduate, to make this a reality. Public school students who are ninth graders in the 2024-25 school year, and those following them, must take a financial literacy course before graduating. Advocates presented extensive evidence about this requirement’s value. Some of it is here.

Rep. Cheryl Youakim, DFL-Hopkins, chairs the House K-12 Education Finance Committee. She told me: “We’ve been talking about two things for 20 years. We finally did them. Specifically, we indexed education funding to inflation, and we significantly increased support for districts and charters to provide services for students with special needs.” She believes these actions will help educators more effectively serve students.

Rep Cheryl Youakim

Sage Hartman, a Wayzata High School senior, and her grandmother, Paula Beugen, helped convince legislators to establish research-based programs that combine classroom work and community service. The Minnesota Department of Education is accepting proposals now until Jan. 22. These proposals must feature ideas from students. More information is available from MDE.

Sage Hartman

 

Paula Beugen

Sen. Steve Cwodzinski, DFL-Eden Prairie, praised three high school students who described the embarrassment some experience when they don’t have menstrual products in schools. “It took three years, but this year the bill passed,” he explained. As of Jan. 1, 2024, all Minnesota public schools must provide free access to menstrual products for menstruating students grades 4-12. The Legislature allocated funds to support this. This link shows a Minnesota House hearing in which Hopkins and Eagan students testified.

Sen Steve Cwodzinski

Recognizing that affordable housing is a high priority, legislators approved many laws designed to help. Among them are expansion of programs in which students learn construction skills as they build homes for low-income families. Rep. Matt Norris, DFL-Blaine, called this a “triple win” because students develop marketable skills, Minnesota gets more affordable housing, and more people enter construction and related fields with a shortage of workers. Along with Rep. Norris, Rep. Mike Howard, DFL-Richfield; Rep. Samakab Hussein, DFL-St. Paul; Sen. Zaynab Mohamed, DFL-Minneapolis; and Sen. Lindsey Port, DFL-Burnsville, helped guide this legislation.

CSC Co-director testifying with Rep. Matt Norris

Some issues received more visibility. A well-documented report by high school and college students explained that the majority of school districts are not following a key part of Minnesota’s Postsecondary Enrollment Options law. That law requires up-to-date information be given to students and families by a certain date and posted on district websites.

New research by former PSEO participants Katayanna Taylor and Zeke Jackson (a Little Falls High School graduate), shows that only 36% of districts and 70% of charters are providing all the information required by state law. For example, less than half of the websites tell students they can take PSEO courses online using their school’s computers. Taylor and Jackson’s Information Gap report, rates every district and charter public school website. The Minnesota Department of Education summarizes required information here.

Katyanna Taylor and Zeke Jackson

St. Louis Park High School students offer another example of youth-led efforts. Guided by Minnesota Teacher of the Year Lee-Ann Stephens, they promoted greater understanding and respect via SOAR (Students Organized for Anti- Racism).

Finally, Sheri Brenden’s recent book “Break Point: Two Minnesota Athletes and the Road to Title IX” (University of Minnesota Press) explains how in 1971, two Minnesota female high school students successfully challenged various groups to dramatically expand athletic opportunities for young women in Minnesota and throughout the U.S.

Minnesota cares for youngsters. This is a place where progress is possible.

Joe Nathan, Ph.D., formerly a Minnesota public school teacher, administrator, and PTA president, co-directs the Center for School Change. Reactions welcome, joe@centerforschoolchange.org.