Archives for category: Minneapolis

Rob Levine is a photographer and public school advocate in Minneapolis. In this post, he describes the role of the Minneapolis Foundation in funding a vast expansion of charter schools, which are overwhelmingly non-union. The Minneapolis Foundation has been a fixture in civic life since 1915, funding good works that benefit the entire city. The foundation currently dispenses $125 million.

Levine writes:

So when and why, exactly, did the Minneapolis Foundation start trying to kill the Minneapolis Public Schools?  

For a dozen years the foundation and its philanthropic allies have focused their money and influence on creating a public school system based on free-market “choice.” The reasons for this are twofold. First, the foundation weakens one of the last unionized sectors in the country, public school teachers; in this case, the same ones who are currently striking for higher wages, smaller class sizes, and increased mental health support. Second, it exposes the billions Minnesota spends annually on public education to private-sector profiteers. 

To achieve those goals, the foundation would first flood the city with continuously opening and closing charter schools. Then they would lead a movement to create and fund a raft of dodgy nonprofits to vilify teachers.

Charter Schools: A Minnesota-born Experiment 

In fact, if not for the Minneapolis Foundation, there would be no such thing as charter schools. According to Zero Chance of Passage, a book on the start of charter schools by former Minnesota State Senator Ember Reichgott Junge, author of the nation’s first charter school law, they were dreamed up at a gathering thrown by the foundation in 1988 at Madden’s Resort in central Minnesota. The posh conference was attended by a “distinguished group of business, education, and civic leaders from around the Twin Cities,” Junge writes. 

Although charters today look little like those envisioned by the original proposals, the ideology of the movement still governs: Public schools have to compete for public dollars. Today, of the 180 operating charter schools in the state, five have unionized faculty.

At the time of their creation, many promises were made about the charter school experiment. At first they were to be lab schools, nontraditional learning centers where new education models are tested. Then, proponents said their presence was supposed to make regular public schools better. Then they turned into, essentially, a full-fledged second public school system. The results of the experiment show that charter schools do not get better results on standardized tests, they increase segregation, they put regular public school districts under permanent financial and enrollment pressure, and they have grown a cadre of schools with no teachers’ unions. 

Oh, and they fail a lot. By 2008, 16 years after the first charter school in the nation opened in St. Paul, charter schools had yet to gain a significant foothold in the state, and many had already closed for various, predictable problems, such as self-dealing, lack of adequate curriculum, various financial improprieties, and even lack of a building. The classroom environment amounted to “total bedlam,” one student said in a 2005 City Pages story. 

In a system predicated as a market, there was no market. In response, the Walton Family Foundation (the Walmart heirs) began funding in 2010, with a lot of help from local foundations, an organization called Charter School Partners, which would funnel the Waltons’ money into charter school startup grants to local entrepreneurs. For charter schools, startup is everything, because, once up and running, the state pretty much pays the bills

In 2017, one year after [former mayor] Rybak took charge of the Minneapolis Foundation, there were already more than 14,000 students in charter schools in the city, and the district itself enrolled about 35,000 students. If you plan to create 30,000 new charter school seats in a district that enrolls 35,000 students you clearly intend to destroy that district.

Please open the link and read about the allies and money combined to eliminate public schools in Minneapolis.

Eric Blanc wrote a book about the teachers’ strikes titled Red State Revolt: The Teachers’ Strike Wave and Working-Class Politics.

He is in Minneapolis now covering the teachers’ strike that started last Tuesday.

He writes in The Nation:

Thousands of educators are on strike in Minneapolis, two years into a pandemic that has pushed public education to a breaking point across the country. With the future of education in unprecedented limbo, the stakes are high—and not just in the Twin Cities.

Public schools were in crisis well before Covid-19. Especially in predominantly non-white, working-class school districts like Minneapolis, decades of underfunding, privatization, high-stakes testing, and low educator pay made it increasingly difficult for teachers and support staff to provide the education their students deserve.

In the Twin Cities and beyond, the past two years have reversed Red for Ed’s political momentum and exacerbated structural stressors and inequities, resulting in increased educator outflows from the profession and increased familyoutflows from public schools. By late 2021, a quarter of teachers, and almost half of Black teachers, indicated in national surveys that they were considering leaving their jobs. Over the past 18 months, Minneapolis Public Schools have lost over 640 teachers and support professionals.

Schools have lacked basic resources necessary to address students’ mental distress in the face of pandemic conditions, the police murder of George Floyd, and subsequent social unrest. In line with a growing trend of progressive unions to “bargain for the common good,” one of the Minneapolis strike’s major demands is for every school to be provided with a social worker and counselor every day, as well as increased hiring of school psychologists. “As educators, we have been saying ‘What about the kids?’ for decades,” explains Greta Callahan, president of the teachers’ chapter of the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers. “And right now we’re at a place where we can no longer allow students to pay for the mistakes made by those at the top.”

Shortages of support staff, substitutes, and teachers in Minneapolis and St. Paul have deepened the difficulties of those educators who remain. This is especially the case for educational support professionals (ESPs), half of whom are people of color. “If we’re going to talk about racial justice, we have to talk about how we treat everybody in our system,” explains Shaun Laden, president of the educational support professionals’ chapter of Minneapolis Federation of Teachers. “The district doesn’t treat our members of color and our hourly workers with the dignity and respect that they deserve.” Faced with increased work burdens and a less-than-living wage—many ESPs make as low as $24,000 a year—it is not surprising that Sahan Journal found a 22 percent vacancy rate for Minneapolis ESPs, with many choosing instead to work at McDonalds or as FedEx delivery drivers. Unions are demanding that the starting pay for 90 percent of ESPs be bumped up to $35,000.

Of course, teachers are striking for higher pay but much more is involved. Open the link and read on.

For Immediate Release
March 7, 2022

Natasha Dockter
Minneapolis Federation of Teachers and
Education Support Professionals

Minneapolis educators to strike Tuesday for safe and stable schools

MINNEAPOLIS, March 7, 2022 – The educators of the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers and Education Support Professionals will go on strike Tuesday for the safe and stable schools students deserve. Despite days in public bargaining and mediations, including more than 65 hours in the last week, the district continues to refuse to work with MFT to create systemic change and remains entrenched in the unacceptable status quo. 
President Greta Callahan of the MFT teachers chapter, President Shaun Laden of the MFT ESP chapter and the presidents of Education Minnesota, the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association will attend a news conference at 7:30 a.m. Tuesdayoutside Justice Page Middle School, 1W. 49th S., Minneapolis.
The members of the MFT will begin picketing outside their schools and other worksites at 7:30 a.m. Tuesday. The membership will come together for a large rally at 12:15 p.m. at the Minneapolis Public Schools Nutrition Center, 812 Plymouth Avenue North, Minneapolis, before marching approximately 1 mile to the MPS Davis Center, 1250 W Broadway Ave, Minneapolis.
Picketing begins at schools and other worksites at 7:30 a.m. Tuesday
News conference with MFT presidents and state and national presidents 7:30 a.m. Tuesday at Justice Page Middle School, 1W. 49th S., Minneapolis
Rally starting at 12:15 p.m. Tuesday at Minneapolis Public Schools Nutrition Center, 812 Plymouth Avenue North, Minneapolis
Laden said:  “This bargaining campaign started with the very simple idea that for the education support professionals who are told every day that our schools can’t run without us, one job should be enough. We’re the most racially diverse group of educators in a district with administrators who say they care about racial equity. We have been demanding that the administrators at the bargaining table put their money where their mouth is and they have refused. Now is the time for the school board to intervene and settle a deal that pays ESP a starting wage of $35,000 a year.”
Callahan said: “For almost two years, we’ve been trying to reach agreements around safe and stable schools for students and those closest to them, but the administration has stubbornly defended an unacceptable status quo. We are the defenders of public education and we’re not going to slow down, or give up, until we make real progress addressing the mental health crisis in our schools, reducing class sizes and caseloads so students are receiving the individualized attention they need, and increasing educator compensation so that we don’t continue to lose staff, especially educators of color, to surrounding districts and other professions.”
Denise Specht, president of Education Minnesota, said: “Nearly 90,000 educators across Minnesota are standing with our union family in Minneapolis because what they’re fighting for is what we’re all fighting for: Schools that will give every student the chance to pursue their dreams. The same issues are being negotiated all over the state, from living wages for ESPs, to more mental health supports for students, to managing the crushing caseload for SpEd teachers, to recruiting and retaining more teachers of color,  to creating time for educators to give their students enough individual attention. We’re in a rich state with a $9.25 billion surplus. No educator should have to fight this hard for the schools our students deserve, but if that’s what it takes, we’re with you.”
Becky Pringle, president of the National Education Association, said: “With over $250 million in pandemic relief funds, the time is now to invest in the safe and stable schools that Minneapolis students need now more than ever. The three million members of the National Education Association are proud to stand with our siblings in Minneapolis. The last two years have demonstrated that the status quo is not good enough. Minneapolis students and their families have weathered a pandemic, continued police violence, and an economic system that has left students, their families, and educators behind. These students deserve class sizes small enough for one-to-one attention as well as investments in mental health services and social-emotional learning.  MPS must also invest in systematic changes that improve the recruitment and retention of educators of color as well as a living wage for education support professionals. Education support professionals represent a critical workforce in our schools providing essential supports students depend on. MPS has the resources to make these investments. The question is whether they value Minneapolis students as much as their educators do.”
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said: “The federal government has provided an unprecedented amount of recovery funding to school districts to address problems related to the pandemic, including student recovery, staff shortages and school safety. There is no excuse for districts to make cuts in light of this historic infusion of funds. And the economy is showing real signs of growth. Indeed, Minnesota just announced a $9.25 billion surplus.
“Our kids, their families and educators have been through tremendous challenges in the last two years; they have done their share to navigate the rough seas together. Educators and students should be the priorities, and districts should provide the conditions and environment they need to succeed. School districts should respect their educators and ensure that students have the programs and services they need to thrive,” Weingarten said.
The union’s safe and stable schools agenda includes:

  • Paying a living wage for education support professionals to stabilize this critical workforce, because students need the stability of working with one paraprofessional throughout the school year. For ESPs, this means raising the starting salary from about $24,000 a year to $35,000 through increases in hours and rate of pay.
  • Making systemic changes to improve the recruitment and retention of educators of color, which benefits all of MPS.
  • Improving student-to-mental health professional ratios because students shouldn’t have to wait weeks for an appointment with a counselor or social worker.
  • Lowering class sizes because students learn best when their classrooms aren’t overcrowded and underfunded.
  • Paying competitive salaries for licensed staff to stop the exodus of teachers from MPS. State data show the average salary of Minneapolis teachers is ranked 28 out of 46 districts in the seven-county metro area.


The authorizer of the Hmong College Prep Academy in St. Paul, Minnesota, wants to fire the superintendent of the school after learning of big losses in the school’s funds.

A St. Paul charter school’s authorizer has placed the school on probation and recommended the board fire its superintendent after she lost $4.3 million of the school’s money investing in a hedge fund.

The authorizer, Bethel University, said Hmong College Prep Academy’s failed investment “illustrates areas of great concern related to managing finance, governance and legal compliance.”

Christianna Hang, superintendent and chief financial officer, founded the school in 2004. It’s now the state’s largest single-site charter school, with around 2,400 students in the Como neighborhood, and is building a $43 million middle school with financing facilitated by the city of St. Paul.

Hang was looking for opportunities to pay for that project when she ended up wiring $5 million to a hedge fund in 2019, in violation of the school’s policy and state law. The school is now suing the hedge fund.

Bethel’s Aug. 30 letter also cited “significant concerns” about conflicts of interest regarding the superintendent, her husband and a former school board member.

The first conflict involved Bridge Partner Group, a company owned by Hang and her husband, Paul Yang. The board in January approved a contract with the company, effectively converting Yang from the school’s chief operating officer to an independent contractor on a fully guaranteed, five-year contract worth around $190,000 a year; the board later reversed that move.

The second conflict involves Northeast Bank, which was chosen to finance $7 million of the middle school project while one of its vice presidents, Jason Helgemoe, served as vice chair on the Hmong College Prep board.

Bethel has directed the board to spend 90 days making numerous changes at the school, including dividing superintendent and chief financial officer into two separate positions and hiring a financial consultant who reports directly to the authorizer.

In addition, Bethel is “recommending” the board fire Hang and replace her with someone with no prior ties to Hmong College Prep and for the board to appoint a chairperson who is not employed by the school; the current chair is a teacher.

If you are wondering why there is a Hmong charter school, Minnesota has a long-established practice of authorizing racially and ethnically segregated schools. Defenders of the practice say the children are more comfortable going to school with children of the same background.

I remember when Southerners said the same about segregated schools in the 1950s.

When was the last time your school had millions to invest in the market?

Yohuru Williams is Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of St. Thomas in St.Paul, Minnesota. He is a noted scholar of Black history. And he also serves on the board of the Network for Public Education.

Dean Williams writes here about the activism for social justice in Minneapolis-St.Paul, inspired by the words of the late Congressman and civil rights icon, John Lewis.

Earlier this September, in Minneapolis and St. Paul, a brave collection of principals and assistant principals banded together to take on the issue of equity and justice in education.

Lewis’s letter, though directed at Black Lives Matter activists in particular, encourages all of us to find ways to get into “good trouble, necessary trouble,” in order to advance the goals of justice.
The members of the alliance, now 159 strong, have branded themselves the “good trouble” coalition after the mantra of the late Congressman John Lewis, who, before passing away in July, wrote a final letter that sought to inspire a passion for activism around racial injustice.

In his last months of life, Lewis lamented the dangerous and deadly state of affairs in the United States: persistent unjust police violence against African Americans, the failed governmental response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and continued efforts to erode American democratic practice at the highest levels of government.

And Lewis’s letter, though directed at Black Lives Matter activists in particular, encourages all of us to find ways to get into “good trouble, necessary trouble,” in order to advance the goals of justice—especially in tackling the most urgent issues of racial inequality, climate change, mass incarceration, economic disparities, healthcare gaps, and political division.

He also invited young people to consider how they might transform the future through studying history as a means of understanding our enduring struggles to achieve lasting peace and equality.

It is ironic that Cong. Lewis urged young people to study history as a means to “lasting peace and equality,” even as Trump demands a reactionary revision of U.S. history to glorify its “leaders” (no doubt including the Confederates who rallied to preserve white supremacy) and diminish or remove the role of African Americans in that history.

Jan Resseger writes here about the decision by Minneapolis and other school districts to remove police from the schools.

She begins:

In the aftermath of the tragic police killing of George Floyd and the widespread protests of police brutality that have followed, the Schott Foundation for Public Education comments: “We want to lift up one ray of hope in this dark moment: The Minneapolis Board of Education made in important step… when it voted to sever its relationship with the Minneapolis Police Department… which until now had been the recipient of more than $1 million in education funds to put its officers in schools… The danger of police officers in schools—and their contribution to creating the school-to-prison pipeline that threatens so many children of color—is well documented and their removal has been a central demand of education justice organizations that Schott is proud to support….”

Several school districts have followed the lead of the Minneapolis Board of Education including the schools of Rochester, New York, and Portland, Oregon. It also looks as though the members of the Denver, Colorado Board of Education will vote to terminate the employment of police school resource officers, known everywhere these days as SROs.


The teachers of St. Paul, Minnesota, are on strike. Their number one demand is the expansion of mental health services and counseling for their students. The #Red4Ed movement continues, as teachers become first-line protectors of their students.

Teachers and support staff in Saint Paul, Minnesota, are on strike for the first time since 1946.

The union says students need more counseling and mental health support than the district and current staff can provide.

The strikers are demanding a mental health team at every school. The team would include social workers, psychologists, nurses, and behavior intervention specialists, in numbers proportional to the number of students in the school.

Despite marathon bargaining sessions over the weekend, the district made no real movement on the core issues. The union rejected the district’s last-minute offer to call off the strike and take the contract dispute to arbitration instead.

“There are so many kids with so many issues,” said middle school teacher Leah Van Dassor. “Kids are depressed because they have problems at home. They don’t have anyone to talk to.”

St. Paul Federation of Educators (SPFE) Vice President Erica Schatzlein sees a wide range of needs in her work as an elementary teacher with English language learners.

“A students that had a parent pass away, instead of acting out, becomes completely withdrawn,” she said. A newly homeless student “has a meltdown, and I have to evacuate the classroom.”

In addition to its mental health demands, the union is asking for more bilingual teacher’s aides and limits on class size for special education.

“It’s too bad that all these important social services fall on the shoulder of the schools, but they do,” said Van Dassor, who is also on the bargaining team. “We have to try to figure out a way to help.”

Rob Levine, a Resistance-to-Privatization blogger in Minneapolis, reports here on the failure of the Bush Foundation’s bold “teacher effectiveness” initiative, which cost $45 million. All wasted.

The foundation set bold goals. It did not meet any of them.

Levine writes:

Ten years ago the St Paul-based Bush Foundation embarked on what was at the time its most expensive and ambitious project ever: a 10-year, $45 million effort called the Teacher Effectiveness Initiative (TEI). The advent of the TEI coincided with the implementation of a new operating model at the foundation. Beginning in 2009 it would mostly would run its own programs, focusing on three main areas: .

  • “developing courageous leaders and engaging communities in solving problems”
  • “…supporting the self-determination of Native nations”
  • “…increasing the educational achievement of all students”

Bush foundation president Peter Hutchinson told a news conference that the initiative would “increase by 50 percent the number of students in Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota who go to college.”

The Teacher Effectiveness Initiative was the foundation’s real-world application of its broad educational philosophy. Peter Hutchinson, the foundation’s president at the time, told a news conference announcing the plan that the initiative would “increase by 50 percent the number of students in Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota who go to college.” How was this miraculous achievement to be done? By “[enabling] the redesign of teacher-preparation programs” at a range of higher educational institutions where teachers are educated in the three-state area.

The foundation also said that, through “Consistent, effective teaching” it would “close the achievement gap.” It would achieve these goals by “producing 25,000 new, effective teachers by 2018.”

Not only was the Bush Foundation going to do all these things, but they would prove it with metrics. It contracted with an organization called the Value Added Research Center (VARC) to expand its Value Added Model (VAM) to track test scores of students who were taught by teachers graduated from one of its programs. The foundation, which paid VARC more than $2 million for its work, would use those test scores to rate the teachers ‘produced’ – even giving $1,000 bonuses to the programs for each ‘effective’ teacher.

10 years later: Fewer students in college, ‘achievement gap’ unchanged

By just about any measure the Teacher Effectiveness Initiative was a failure. Some of the top-line goals were missed by wide margins. The promise of 50% more college students in the tri-state area over the 10 years of the project? In reality, in Minnesota alone the number of post-secondary students enrolled actually dropped from almost 450,000 in 2009 to 421,000 in 2017 – a decline of about six percent.

Just one more example of the complete and utter failure of the hoax of “reform,” which was always about privatization and union-busting, not improving schools or helping students.


Rob Levine, a critic of Ed Deform, created a website called that tracks funding of education reform orgs in MN –  and it has a feature called Charter School Scandals of the Day

Levine created a graphic to demonstrate the damage that charters do to public schools. He focuses on the charter schools in Minneapolis, which are well funded and highly segregated. Defenders of charters in Minneapolis actually think that racial and ethnic segregation is a good thing. They think that as long as families choose segregation, it is okay. George Wallace would have agreed with them.

The cycle of destruction begins as the districts loses students and money to charters. The district must cut programs and increase class sizes. When they cut programs and class sizes grow, they lose more students to charters. The cycle continues until the district shrivels to insignificance or disappears.

Rob writes:

Though specifics vary, across the nation charter schools are draining the students and finances of public school districts, creating distress in many. In Minneapolis, the Minneapolis Foundation is trying this very strategy with its created entity, Minnesota Comeback, whose goal is 30,000 new charter seats in the city.

Does the Minneapolis Foundation want to destroy public schools in Minneapolis? Look at its partners: all the same “reform” groups that are working with DeVos, the Waltons, and the Koch brothers.

Rob’s graphic shows that tens of millions spent by “Reformers” to disrupt and destroy public schools in Minneapolis.

Last June, the New York Times published a gushing piece about the success of a segregated charter school in Minneapolis. The author, Conor Williams of the New America Foundation, worried that Betsy DeVos’s fervent advocacy for charter schools might persuade liberals and progressives that charter schools are simply another form of privatization (which is true). His goal was to persuade progressives that segregated, non-union charter schools are doing a great job on behalf of poor and minority students. His example was Hiawatha Academy in Minneapolis. Williams claimed that the “math and literacy proficiency rates for students learning English are more than double the statewide averages for that group.”

He asserted: “Hiawatha schools should be easy for the left to love. They’re full of progressive educators helping children of color from low-income families succeed. And yet, they’re charter schools.”

Whoops! Time for an update.

Rob Levine, charter school critic, recently offered a brief history of charter schools and exposed the sham of Conor Williams’ claims:

Success is a relative word, as Williams made clear; in this context he meant better student test scores than students in the same demographic throughout the state.

If Williams had written this a few years ago he would have been right in one respect:Conor Williams in the New York Times. In a few of those years Hiawatha test scores reached their zenith with proficiency rates that exceeded state overall averages. This was especially intriguing because of one peculiarity about Hiawatha schools – they are essentially single-race, with about 98% of its students being Hispanic/Latino.

At one time Hiawatha had passable test scores, but this story, like so many education reform stories, was not what it seemed. In recent years Hiawatha’s test scores have dropped steadily back down to earth, so that now they’re less than half of the state averages. For some reason national, and especially local media aren’t interested in that now.

If on his trip to Minneapolis correspondent Williams had wandered out the front door of Hiawatha Academy and sauntered just four blocks north he would haveEl Colegio come across El Colegio, another segregated charter school that is 100% Hispanic / Latino. El Colegio has had test score proficiencies ranging near zero for the past five years, including zero percent math proficiency in 2016 and zero percent reading proficiency in 2017. Yet it is a favorite of local philanthropies.

And so it goes with charter schools in the Twin Cities where an archipelago of deliberately segregated charter schools are being built in areas of concentrated racial poverty, all funded by a few local and national philanthropies, including the Minneapolis Foundation and the Walmart heirs at the Walton Family Foundation. And unlike Hiawatha, more than a few of these radically segregated schools have had test score proficiencies in the zero to 10% range for half a dozen years or more.

These are places that people like Williams seldom mention. Most charter schools perform roughly the same as comparable public schools on standardized tests. Yes, there are a few charter schools that do marginally better on standardized test scores than their statewide cohort. But they are the exception, not the rule.

How many times can charter advocates tell the same lies and get away with it?

As long as the Walton, Gates, Broad, Bloomberg, Hastings, and other billionaires keep pumping out the propaganda, and as long as the New York Times publishes their false claims, they will keep on hoaxing the public.

Funny, I read an obituary in the New York Times yesterday about William Helmand, who collected memorabilia about medical quackery, claims that this product or that product would cure anything and everything.

Mr. Helfand spent more than a half-century accumulating materials that hawked things like Bile Beans (“for Health, Figure & Charm”) and Docteur Rasurel’s Hygienic Undergarments. He gave much of his collection to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the New York Academy of Medicine and other institutions, helping them with exhibitions over the years.

He became something of an expert on the history of quackery and the methods of promoting it.

“It’s probably the second-oldest profession,” he said in a 2014 talk at the Institute Library in New Haven. “It was one of the easiest things to get into, because all you had to do was say ‘My product cures some serious disease,’ and you did not have to back it up…”

“We cannot always be sure of the motivation of the seller,” he told The Times in 2011. “It may be quackery to us, but he or she may have thought it could cure everything.”

As I read the obituary and scanned the beautiful posters, I kept thinking of charter school quackery.

Speaking of charter schools and privatization as the “cure” for ailing schooldistricts, you may want to tune in to this webinar at 3 pm today, where charter cheerleader Joe Nathan of Minnesota and voucher cheerleader Howard Fuller of the Now-defunct Black Alliance for Educational Options encourage listeners to get politically involved to support privatization. They make the hilarious claim that the resistance to charters is “well funded,” when the opposite is true. The federal government just handed out $399 million to spur more charters. The Walton Family Foundation gives out between $200-300 Million to charters every year. The charter industry is funded by a gaggle of billionaires, too numerous to list, including Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Reed Hastings, Eli Broad, the Fisher Family, the DeVos Family, the Koch brothers, Michael Bloomberg, Paul Singer, Daniel Loeb, and Philip Anschutz.

If you listen, please take notes on who is funding the opposition to charters. If you find out, please let me know so the Network for Public Education can get some of that big money to counter the pro-privatization forces.