After an exciting election season where SEIU Local 284 members helped elect a wave of pro-public education elected officials (including Gov. Tim Walz), we are now heading into the new legislative session where we will continue our work fighting for strong public schools. Below you will find some of the issues that we will be advocating for at the Capitol when session begins on January 8th.
Want to get involved to help win on the issues that matter to school employees, students and our communities? Email SEIU Local 284 Political Director Chris Stinson at ChrisS@local284.com to find out how.
MINNESOTA MIRACLE 2.0
SEIU Local 284 is part of a coalition fighting for a new Minnesota Miracle in Education that would ensure that students have all they need to be successful from preK through college or career regardless of their race, background, or zip code. Now is the time to prioritize investing in public education by fully funding:
- Equitable Funding. The Minnesota Miracle of 1971 survived relatively unchanged until 2002 when the funding formula was changed. Between 2002 and 2011 state funding for education didn’t keep up with the rate of inflation and school districts began to rely on voter approved property tax levies for their general operating budgets. The inequity between property tax rich and property tax poor districts began to increase again. We need to return to an equitable funding formula so students in low property tax wealth communities have the same educational opportunities as students in affluent zip codes.
- Universal, Public PreK. Every Minnesota child deserves a safe place where they will be able to play and learn foundational skills to be ready for kindergarten. Children participating in early learning programs had significantly fewer needs related to special education, welfare, or corrections (imprisonment) than peers who didn’t participate in those programs.
- Full-Service Community Schools. Historic and institutional bias in employment, housing, education, and criminal justice have traumatized generations of communities of color and indigenous communities, resulting in student populations with disproportionately high needs in those communities and schools that struggle to meet those needs. The Full-Service Community School model is the most efficient model to meet the student body’s needs and improve student achievement as it co-locates learning with other critical social services. Key to this model is that the definition of critical needs and the service providers themselves come from the community the students live in. Because service providers are also community members, they have an important stake in finding ways to serve their neighbors and improve their neighborhood.
- Free Public College. It is now necessary to obtain a post-secondary degree in order to enter, and remain, in the middle class but student loan debt burdens the students who most depend on a college degree for upward socioeconomic mobility and prevents them from fully participating in the economy. Investing in the ability of students to attend college, regardless of economic status, is one of the most important things government can do to boost our economy in the short term and make our economy and our society stronger in the long term.
VOUCHERS (TAX CONFORMITY)
SEIU Local 284 opposes the use of public money, including tax deductions and credits, for private school tuition. Public schools accept all students, including all religions, sexual orientations, gender identities, children of color, children with special needs or learning disabilities. At a time when we need to address racial and geographic disparities in our schools, vouchers would starve our public schools. Federal tax law allows the use of 529 accounts to pay for private school tuition, a provision that we oppose expanding into the state tax code.
Privatization of food service, transportation, and custodial jobs result in higher staff turnover and less qualified staff because lower wages and fewer benefits make it harder to attract and retain a quality workforce. We need to retain the best staff to work with kids every day. With private companies focusing on profits instead of students, services are negatively impacted, affecting the safety of students. Low-wage jobs are bad for the community, forcing families to rely on public programs like food stamps, Medicaid, free lunch, and child care assistance to sustain their family.
STUDENT LUNCH DEBT
Hunger has a big negative impact on cognitive and social development and makes children far more susceptible to physical and mental illness. Yet hunger is a widespread problem nationally with just half of the students who are eligible for free breakfast receiving it. Many families fall just outside the income limits for the free meal program or fluctuate in and out of eligibility. Programs that give all students free meals eliminate the stigma children on free meals can experience and save schools and parents a big headache when it comes to paperwork.
Many school district employees are exempted by state law from Minnesota’s unemployment system. It is blatantly unfair that school districts employees are excluded from MN’s unemployment system while resort, golf course, amusement park employees, and private subcontractors doing the same work are eligible. At a minimum, all school employees should receive the same written notice that teachers get that they have a reasonable assurance of being employed after the summer break so that our members have the financial security that folks in other professions have. To be really fair, school districts should be required to participate in the unemployment system.
STUDENT LOAN DEBT
We supported the Student Loan Debt Tax Deduction so students can attend college, regardless of economic status without being held back by debt for the rest of their lives. The language currently in statute is only a tax deduction. We would support efforts to expand that into a Refundable Tax Credit.
STATE GRANT PROGRAM
The Minnesota State Grant Program has helped students build better futures for themselves and their families, by making two-year schools, four-year schools, and technical school training programs more affordable. We support an increase in the State Grant Program to ensure that it meets the needs of Minnesota’s students. We would also support extending the promise of higher education to Minnesota Dreamers, many of whom have lived in our state for most of their lives. Minnesota should invest $1.1 million to provide additional State Grant assistance to 568 Minnesota Dreamers to fill in for federal Pell Grants they would be eligible to receive, but for their legal status. The average eligible student would receive an average increase of $2,010 under this proposal to help pay tuition.
SPECIAL EDUCATION FUNDING
We know that school districts struggle to keep up with the mandated costs of educating students with special needs. We also know that appropriately supporting students with special needs is critical for their development and future success. Minnesota and the Federal Government don’t pay their fair share of the cost of special education resulting in that local school districts having to make up the difference. Everyone is asked to do more with less and that’s just not sustainable for any school employees, especially the special education paras.
STUDENT SUPPORT SERVICES
Minnesota has the worst ratio of counselors to students in the nation and we’re not much better at providing nurses, paras, and other support staff. We know that appropriately supporting students with special needs is critical for their development and future success. We need to support our students so they can focus on learning.