Archives for category: Minnesota

Mercedes Schneider writes here about an outrageous financial scam in Wisconsin and Minnesota that was inflicted on members of the Hmong community.

The Securities and Exchange Commission announced charges against a Hmong woman who had made extravagant promises to investors, then defrauded them.

On April 13, 2022, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) filed charges against Wisconsin resident, Kay Yang, for “conduct[ing] a fraudulent investment scheme targeting members of the Hmong-American communities in Wisconsin and Minnesota.”

Schneider goes into the details, and she points out that the same financial advisor counseled a Hmong charter school to invest the school’s endowment in a risky fund. Unfortunately, they took her advice, although the school leaders violated Minnesota law by making a risky investment with the school’s funds.

There is another twist in Yang’s story, one that the April 13, 2022, Twin Cities Pioneer Press captures as it alludes to Yang as “having ties to a St. Paul (MN) charter school board”:

Kay Yang has been described in a separate legal matter as a “close personal friend” of Christianna Hang, founder and former superintendent of Hmong College Prep Academy, one of Minnesota’s largest charter schools.

Hang was looking to invest some of the school’s money in May 2019 when Yang referred her to Woodstock Capital LLC, a hedge fund based in London.

That fall, Hang wired Woodstock $5 million in school funds, in violation of state statutes that limit what schools may invest in. Eighteen months later, just $700,000 remained.

The school now is suing Woodstock, alleging its investment either was stolen or badly mismanaged.

Woodstock called the loss a matter of bad timing, saying the coronavirus pandemic made it “possibly the worst time in recent world history for investments such as those made by hedge funds in general.”

Hang and her husband, chief operating officer Pao Yang, resigned from the school at the end of last year with a combined $350,000 in separation payments.

No criminal or civil enforcement charges have been filed in the charter school matter.

The school gambled away its $5 million


Through her foolishness, Hang lost $4.3Mof the $5M of HCPA’s money.

Rob Levine, charter skeptic, photographer, and charter critic, recently discovered that the Hmong College Prep Academy had hired one of its loudest critics.

He writes:

BY NOW MOST people who follow education in Minnesota are aware of the Hmong College Prep Academy’s illegal $5 million investment in a hedge fund that ended up losing $4.3 million, costing the power couple who run the segregated St. Paul-based charter school their jobs and casting doubt on the long term viability of the institution.

As the messy saga unfolded, an opaque school finance and consulting outfit called The Anton Group weighed in on the scandal with two blog posts, the first in June of 2021, and the second in late September. In a nutshell, Anton’s assessment was: This is fraud! The following month, something weird happened: Despite Anton’s very public criticisms of HCPA, the company landed a $100k contract to clean up the mess. A month after that, Anton’s Finance Officer became the Chief Financial Officer of the school itself. And sometime between that second blog post in September and the hiring of Anton in October those two blog posts were deleted.

As Levine puts it, “Charter school decided to feed the hand that bit it.”

Please note that Rob Levine asked me to correct the way I wrote the last line.

Minneapolis-based journalist Sarah Lahm writes about Minnesota as a pioneer in the school choice movement, 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.

She writes:

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’s enrollment numbers and, subsequently, its finances.

This district is one of the largest and most diverse in 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 students 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, 14,000 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 had risen to more than 16,000. Today, more than one-third 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 recent article by Star Tribune reporter Anthony Lonetree.

As a consequence of shrinking enrollments, district officials recently outlined a reorganization proposal that 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 of white flight charter schools within the city limits, for example, that have long waiting lists and offer exclusive programming options, such as Great River School (a Montessori school), Nova Classical Academy, 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 according to state data 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 the news recently, thanks to a scandal that was dubbed 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 lost $4.3 million, leading to calls for the school’s superintendent, Christianna Hang, to be fired—something school officials refused to do. Hang finally submitted her resignation in late October.

In short, the market-based approach to education reform that Minnesota helped pioneer has 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 students and families largely coming out on top.

The end result, critics allege, is an increasingly segregated public education landscape across the state, with no widespread boost in student outcomes to show for it.

Thirty years after Minnesota’s charter school and open enrollment laws ushered in a mostly unregulated era of school choice, many states—including Minnesota—and federal officials may be turning their attention to the reform model offered by full-service community schools.

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 to reposition schools as community resource centers that 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 Brooklyn Center, a very diverse suburb just north of Minneapolis. Since 2009, the city’s public school district has operated under the full-service model, 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 named Daunte Wright during a traffic stop.

This layering of trauma upon trauma might have broken the Brooklyn Center community apart, as large protests soon 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 resources 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 live in poverty, according to federal income guidelines, and 85 Deer River students are listed as being homeless—the school district adopted the full-service model in recent years, thanks to startup grants from state and federal funding sources. Staff in Deer River are reportedly 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 noted that the community schools approach enabled school district employees to survey families during the COVID-19 shutdown and provide 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 Las Cruces, New Mexico, to Durham, North Carolina, 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.

Community Schools Approach Is on the Rise

Disrupting 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, a coalition of 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 has proposed dramatically 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 input to Congress 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.

After thirty years of devotion to “reform” (aka, deform or disruption), reform leaders in Minnesota are proposing a state constitutional amendment that will install more mischief into the state’s public schools. Rob Levine, an ardent critic of privatization, has written this account of their multiple failures and their plans to try yet again to impose their ideas on the state’s schools. He wrote this post at my request, after I saw his tweets about the travesty that “reformers” are promoting. Rob is a “follow the money” kind of person, which unsurprisingly removes the veil from bold promises that never come true. Minnesota is allowing big money to dictate the fate of its schools. Is there any accountability in the state for thirty years of failure? Why do “reformers” never learn from their failures?

He writes:

In the Fall of 2022 Minnesotans may be voting on a constitutional amendment that will fundamentally change state law around public education. How will this change public education? Surprisingly, even the authors profess not to know the answer to this question. The only thing certain about the proposed amendment is that it will empower courts and throw districts, parents and others into constant legal battles.

That’s because the amendment upends state law and tradition both in the language it removes and the language it adds. It doesn’t really say anything about how children should be educated, only that they will have a right to a ‘quality’ education as measured by standardized tests and as determined by the courts, with nothing in the amendment to guide them as to permissible remedies. 

A lot of ink has been spilled in Minnesota over the proposed ‘Page’ amendment, but almost no one has investigatedThe Minneapolis Foundation imagines education without teachers either the organizations and people behind the amendment, nor the subtext of it. The education discourse is same as it ever was, but in this case the education reformers – who have failed for 30 years to improve educational outcomes – want to open Pandora’s box.

The amendment is a half-baked, dangerous idea, as a number of scholars and experts recently wrote to Minnesota legislators. It would weaken protections against segregation while simultaneously enshrining invalid standardized test scores in the state constitution.

Who’s really behind this proposed amendment? The powerful philanthropies who for decades have meddled in Minnesota education, almost always to failure. They have been trying to privatize public education for decades. They favor a system where the public pays for things but public employees don’t provide the services.

The campaign’s face is Alan Page, the former pro football star and state supreme court justice. His foundation has received more than three quarters of a million dollars over the past 10 years from the Minneapolis Foundation, the Saint Paul Foundation and its controlled entity the Minnesota Community Foundation.

For 30 years the Minneapolis Foundation has been meddling in the affairs of the Minneapolis Public School District, often actuallyNAEP eighth grade reading, Minnesota telling it what to do while at the same time driving the privatization of public schools through ‘school choice.’ Since about 2008 the vehicle for the destruction is charter schools, a movement it both created and sustained in myriad ways. The result has been stagnant learning across the state for 20 years, increased segregation, and public school districts on the brink.

The Federal Reserve Bank in Minneapolis is also playing a role in advocating for the amendment: a creature of the federal government applying substantial resources and trying to influence and change Minnesota constitutional law.

The bad faith of these foundations and advocates started decades ago when the state considered the nation’s first charter school legislation. History shows that the prime mover behind this legislation was the Minneapolis Foundation, and its ideological guru Ted Kolderie, the charter whisperer. Most people have probably never heard of him, but there are more than a hundred references to him in former DFL legislator and author of the charter school legislation Ember Reichgott Junge’s book, Zero Chance of Passage: The Pioneering Charter School Story, that chronicled how that first charter school legislation came to be.

In a 1990 monograph titled “The states will have to withdraw the exclusive” that argued for competition in the education space, Kolderie told a bunch of whoppers, including that charter schools would increase teacher pay, allow them to control schools, and characterized students as “customers.” None of those predictions have come true. Minnesota now has about 170 charter schools. TWO of them are unionized, so, no, charter schools have not empowered teachers.

Then there’s the organization actually leading this constitutional amendment campaign, Our Children MN, an opaque non-profit incorporated just a year ago whose sole purpose seems to be passing the amendment. Our Children has not disclosed one penny of its funding.

The organizing leading the charge is Our Children, an opaque non-profit that has not disclosed one penny of its funding.

According to Our Children’s website, Michael Ciresi, Minnesota philanthropist and former DFL senate candidate sits on its board of directors. Ciresi hates the Minneapolis Public School District so much that he bought billboards across the street from district headquarters to spread racial disinformation.

Ciresi himself is no slouch when it comes to failing at education reform. His foundation has funded a number of now closed charter school entities, including Charter School PartnersMinnCANHarvest Prep charter school, and last but not least, Minnesota Comeback.

Ciresi’s foundation gave Comeback about a half million dollars over five years. Comeback was a project of the Minneapolis Foundation, which incubated it internally as the Education Transformation Initiative. Lots of other local foundations, including the BushJohn & Denise GravesGeneral Mills, and others contributed to the nascent effort.

When it opened in 2016 Comeback announced $30 million in commitments from funders and promised to create “30,000 rigorous and relevant charter school seats in Minneapolis.” Whatever that meant educationally it was really a death threat to the Minneapolis Public School District, which had about 35,000 students at the time.

Three years later Comeback disappeared into the night with no announcement or media reports after reporting less than $4 million in philanthropic contributions. But don’t fear for them – Comeback was merged into Great MN Schools, an organization it formerly owned, and which is now a “Page Partner.”

This kind of abject failure of philanthropic avatars in the field of education in Minnesota is more the rule than the exception. In 2009 the Bush Foundation, a philanthropy born of 3M money, started the largest project in its history – the 10 year, $50 million Teacher Effectiveness Initiative (TEI) (not to be confused with the Minneapolis Foundation’s failed Education Transformation Initiative).

The TEI postulated that the problem with education is teachers, and by the foundation’s strategic application of its largess so-called ‘achievement gaps’ would be ELIMINATED in three states and 50% more kids would be going to college. The foundation was also so confident of its success that it predicted the changes it would help implement would spread like wildfire nationwide. They also announced that not only would it perform this educational miracle, it would prove it with metrics!

This feat would be done by extending the so-called Value Added Model (VAM) to gauge the ‘effectiveness’ of teachers by analyzing the test scores of their students. The job, and a promise of millions of dollars in revenue, was awarded to a place called the Value Added Research Center at the University of Wisconsin.

Their task was to extend this discredited model originally invented to increase production of farm animals to apply to places where teachers are taught. The idea was to judge schools of education based on the standardized test scores of students taught by their graduates! One doesn’t need a PhD in social science or statistics to know that this is an insane, impossible and worthless goal.

Sure enough halfway through the project the Bush Foundation abandoned its quixotic VAM method and VARC had to be satisfied with only $2 million for its efforts. By the end of the 10 year project ‘achievement gaps’ were the same or worse, and in Minnesota instead of there being 50% more students in college, enrollment actually was down six percent. By any measure – including their own! – this project was a spectacular failure. Turns out teachers aren’t the problem! But that’s not how they saw it.

In an in-house magazine article titled “Goals for a decade revisited,” Jen Ford Reedy, president of the foundation, offered up a bold summary of the project: “We [the Bush Foundation] are proud of what we helped to make happen!”

Failure can also take different forms for the philanthropies. In 2013 the Minneapolis Foundation launched yet another huge education project called RESET Education. They even created a website for it and brought in John Legend to sing at the kickoff. Along with blaming teachers for poor test scores among some demographic groups, RESET was essentially a formula to turn Minnesota schools into testing factories. Sandra Vargas, the head of the foundation at the time, got an op-ed in the Star Tribune to tout the project, just as Our Children got one there a few weeks ago to tout the Page Amendment.

And of course the Minneapolis Foundation turned to MinnPost for coverage, as it often had, as it has been funding the organization to the tune of over $1 million since its inception. For the year of 2013 – the year of RESET – the Bush Foundation also gave MinnPost $82,000 for “Coverage and writings on K-12 education issues, best practices and overall reform efforts.”

At MinnPost reporter Beth Hawkins put the best possible face on the RESET program with gushing words about meeting celebrities and flogging the factually wrong assertions of the Minneapolis Foundation about education. That same year RESET faded into the ether just as Comeback, Charter School Partners, MinnCan and others have.

And as usual when Beth Hawkins wrote at MinnPost it was left to commenters to correct the record. It fell to Jim Barnhill, a former union leader and former Board of Teaching Member who currently works in high school administration, to get to the heart of the matter:

“How about exploring the real agenda of the Minneapolis Foundation? Why not ask the obvious question, ‘How does a business foundation posit themselves as experts in education?’”

The same question could be posed to the Federal Reserve Bank. And just what gives these foundations that have failed at education reform time and time again the right to continue intervening? A prescient person once said that “Insanity is doing the same thing, over and over again, but expecting different results.” A corollary might apply to self-appointed ‘experts’ with deep pockets who repeatedly fail and hurt society. It’s time for Alan Page, Mike Ciresi and the Minneapolis Foundation to grab some bench.

Our brilliant reader Laura Chapman, retired educator, decided to dig deep into the politics of education reform in Minnesota in response to a post about a dubious constitutional amendment sponsored by the Federal Reserve Bank.

Chapman, who lives in Ohio, writes:

I am not from Minnesota, but this post sent me deep into some policies there. The idea is to frame education as a fundamental right to “quality schools” as “measured against uniform achievement standards set forth by the state.”

No. This law is written as if the standard-setting process is a business-as usual-review of existing standards and benchmarks for learning, with periodic revisions. It is not.

Right now, there is a huge controversy over the social studies standards. The battle is about whose histories count and whether conservatives should settle for anything other than patriotism as the major purpose of teaching American history.

Students Learning English (ELLs), are unlikely to pass the absurd requirements being proposed by the Federal Reserve (why bankers?) and as a constitutional amendment (why bankers?).

Minnesota has NO academic tests except those in English. According to a 2020 report from the Migration Policy Institute, and the 2015 American Community Survey, at least 193,600 Minnesota residents have children still learning English. All are in harm’s way. The largest foreign-born groups in Minnesota are from Mexico (67,300), Somalia (31,400), India (30,500), Laos including Hmong (23,300), Vietnam (20,200), China excluding Hong Kong and Taiwan (c), Ethiopia (19,300), and Thailand including Hmong (16,800). One of the fastest growing immigrant groups in Minnesota is the Karen people, an ethnic minority in conflict with the government in Myanmar. Most of the estimated 5,000 Karen in Minnesota came from refugee camps in Thailand. Ojibwe and Dakota are the indigenous languages of Minnesota.

Many of Minnesota’s charter schools are devoted to segregating and strengthening the identities of linguistic/ethnic groups. There are three dual language Spanish-English schools. Eight charter schools are devoted to immersion in these languages/cultures: Chinese, French, German, Korean, Mandarin Chinese, Russian, and Spanish. There are at least five Hmong immersion charter schools, and two for Ojibwe immersion. Two charter schools offer ELL education for East African families and one offers education using American Sign Language/English bilingual approach.

Recent reports also show how charter schools are racially segregated. In St Paul, one hundred percent of students at Higher Ground Academy are black or African-American. This percentage is about the same for Minneapolis’s Friendship Academy. In both cities the overall population of black or African-American residents is below twenty percent. By design, many charter schools in Minnesota are segregated schools. Will these schools be subjected to the wishes of the bankers or not?

In 2021, the Minnesota Federal Reserve, having no expertise in education, called in “experts” to make suggestions on a fix for so-called achievement gaps, meaning differences in scores on standardized tests. This “we-can-fix it” program was sponsored by all 12 of the nation’s District Banks in the Federal Reserve System. In other words, what happens in Minnesota may not be limited to Minnesota but extend to the orbit of District Banks in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Dallas, Kansas City, New York City, Philadelphia, Richmond (VA), San Francisco, and St Louis,

Among the highly visible “experts” called in for this multi-state program were Geoffrey Canada, president of the well-endowed Harlem Children’s Zone (endowment about $148 million, and sponsor of Promise Academy brand of K-12 charter schools), and CEO Salman Khan, founder of online Khan Academy, and Kahn Academy for Kids. The papers for this program also featured the post-Katrina takeover of New Orleans schools as if exemplary.

Bankers are clueless about education but they have an agenda certain to harm thousands of students in Minnesota, especially ELL students, and if applicable to charter schools, the many students ill prepared to take a test only available in English.

The last thing we need to have are the nation’s clueless bankers making permanent changes in education based on proposed Minnesota’s model of “quality.”

Imagine a state that adopts a state constitutional amendment that ties student rights to an education to their test scores. Would anyone be so dumb as to imagine that the test scores of students of different races would change because of a constitutional amendment? Remember that Minnesota was the first state to pass a charter law, promising to close the academic gaps. That was in 1992. Thirty years later, the state’s Big Thinkers are still grasping at straws.



Today, prominent experts on constitutional law and education sent a letter to Minnesota legislators voicing significant concerns that a proposal to amend the Minnesota Constitution would undermine and weaken students’ right to public education. 
In January 2020, the Minneapolis Federal Reserve proposed to eliminate the current guarantee of a free public education in the Minnesota State Constitution and replace it with language to make education “a fundamental right” to “quality schools” to be “measured against uniform achievement standards set forth by the state.” 

Proponents of the change contend that this new language would reduce gaps in achievement between Minnesota’s white students and students of color. A proposed bill to amend the constitution, H.F. 874, was introduced in the Minnesota House of Representatives on February 8.

In their letter, nationally known constitutional scholars and education law experts outline the negative effects the proposed amendment would have on Minnesota students’ right to public education. The letter explains that while “efforts to strengthen education rights” are welcomed, current Minnesota law already recognizes the rights contained in the amendment. 

The letter points out that the proposed amendment adds new language that may well undermine existing constitutional protections. Most notably, the amendment explicitly links the right to education to state achievement standards, a focus that “may encourage courts to measure rights through the narrow lens of tested academic achievement,” according to the scholars and experts.

In addition, the proposed amendment would eliminate core obligations imposed by the Minnesota Constitution on the state legislature to establish and maintain a statewide system of public schools. These include the requirement that the school system be “general and uniform” and “thorough and efficient.” The letter notes that, in 2018, the Minnesota Supreme Court interpreted this language as prohibiting schools segregated by race, a ruling that is considered “one of the most unqualified restrictions on school segregation that can be found in American law.” The scholars and experts underscore that the proposed amendment could endanger this crucial decision advancing racial justice. 

The letter concludes that “the Federal Reserve’s proposed amendment to the Minnesota education clause threatens to reduce, rather than increase, the rights of Minnesota students.”

Signatories include professors from Stanford, UC Berkeley, UC Irvine, Rutgers, the University of the District of Columbia, University of Colorado, University of North Carolina, University of South Carolina, Michigan State University, West Virginia University, Loyola University New Orleans, and the directors of several national civil rights organizations.

Press Contact:Sharon Krengel

Policy and Outreach Director
Education Law Center
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973-624-1815, ext. 24
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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.”

Sarah Lahm writes here that teachers in St. Paul, Minnesota, are on the verge of striking to secure better funding for the public schools and their students.

In the early morning of February 26, a chill hung in the air as a line of teachers and school support staffers clad in bright red union hats, jackets or some combination thereof stood on a busy street corner outside of Highland Park Middle School in St. Paul, Minnesota.

As cars sped past, some with horns blaring in support, the teachers and school workers—who are members of the St. Paul Federation of Educators (SPFE)—hoisted signs proclaiming their willingness to fight on behalf of students.

SPFE represents more than 3,500 teachers, education assistants and school and community support staff members. Minnesota state law requires districts to negotiate with their unionized employees every two years, and the current round of contract talks between SPFE and the St. Paul Public Schools, under the leadership of Superintendent Joe Gothard, has been going on since last May.

Now, SPFE President Nick Faber says the union and the students and families they serve can no longer wait for Gothard and his team to step up and negotiate in good faith. On February 20, a majority of SPFE members voted to authorize a strike against the St. Paul Public Schools.

If an agreement between the union and the school district is not reached by March 10, thousands of SPFE members will walk off the job for the first time since 1946.

The key contract items SPFE is pushing for include fully staffed mental health teams in all schools, a greater investment in special education staffing and programming, and an increase in the number of multilingual staff members.

This puts the union squarely in line with other social justice-oriented labor movements that have been revived in recent years, as seen in events such as the teacher strikes in Chicago and Los Angeles in 2019. Like SPFE, the Chicago and Los Angeles unions also advocated for more than the typical bread-and-butter issues of union contracts, such as salary increases and seniority rights, and additionally pushed for better living and learning conditions for students.

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.


Sarah Lahm writes about education in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis.

In this post, she says that Democratic candidates should speak out against nonprofit charters.

Charter schools, once the darling of politicians on the right and left, have become a hot potato in the Democratic Party 2020 presidential primary with nearly every candidate voicing some level of disapproval of the industry. A common refrain among the candidates is to express opposition to “for-profit charter schools.” Charter school proponents counter these pronouncements by pointing to industry data indicating only 12 percent of charter schools are run by overtly profit-minded entities, and that most charter schools are overseen by outfits that have a nonprofit, tax-exempt status.

But the singling out of for-profit charter schools is somewhat beside the point as residents of a St. Paul, Minnesota, neighborhood learned this summer when a treasured local landmark was threatened by an expanding charter school. The charter was decidedly nonprofit, but as families and preservation advocates would learn from their tenacious, but ultimately unsuccessful, battle to save a beloved, historic church, charter schools, regardless of their tax status, have become powerful players in a lucrative real estate market in urban areas where land values are high and empty lots or school-ready buildings are hard to find.