Archives for category: Minnesota


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“A students that had a parent pass away, instead of acting out, becomes completely withdrawn,” she said.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.


Sarah Lahm wrote in The Progressive about a community battle in St. Paul, Minnesota, over the fate of a historic church building. 

The church in question is St. Andrew’s. Built in 1927 in the Romanesque Revival style, the brown brick church boasts an impressive, multicolored terra-cotta tile roof and a handsome bell tower. From the street, it looks alive and well kept, although Mass hasn’t been celebrated there since 2011.

Back then, the shrinking parish was merged with another one nearby while the building sat in limbo for two years. In 2013, the Twin Cities German Immersion School, a growing charter school in search of a permanent home, began leasing the church building and its accompanying school site by taking on $8 million in construction and real-estate debt.

The local community didn’t mind that the charter school moved in. It does object, however, to plans to tear it down. The St. Paul NAACP joined the opposition to the charter’s plan to grow.

But money isn’t the reason the St. Paul NAACP opposed the proposed expansion of the Twin Cities German Immersion School. Instead, it is segregation. The group, in a statement issued on December 19, 2018, cited the national NAACP’s 2016 call for a moratorium on the expansion of charter schools and argued that allowing the Twin Cities German Immersion School to grow further would “exacerbate the racial and economic segregation in the St. Paul schools.”

The Twin Cities German Immersion School is almost 90 percent white, the NAACP statement noted, while just 7 percent of its students live in poverty, as defined by federal guidelines. That represents a sharp difference from the student population at Como Park Elementary, a neighborhood school in the St. Paul system that sits just one mile away from the Twin Cities German Immersion School.

At Como Park Elementary, only 10 percent of its nearly 500 students are white and the majority live in poverty.

Opponents of the plan to tear down the church appealed to the City Council to designate the building a historic landmark. The council turned them down, 5-0.

The fight is far from over. On Monday, the group Save Historic St. Andrew’s filed a lawsuit under the Minnesota Environmental Rights Act to prevent demolition. Goldstein said the suit was in anticipation of the council voting against historic designation.


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.


The board of the Boston Public Schools selected Brenda Cassellius as its new superintendent. She is the former state superintendent in Minnesota, where she served from 2010 until last January. She is an educator, not a refugee from the corporate world, so that’s a good sign.

The board hopes she will repair relationships that frayed during the brief tenure of Tommy Chang. It is also hoping she will raise test scores,  stop the decline of enrollment, and close achievement gaps.

That is a tall order for any superintendent, and Cassellius would be wise to set her sights on realistic and achievable goals. She will need to obtain new state resources to improve struggling schools, for example, by using research-based methods like reducing class sizes for the students who need e trap attention and support.

”Reformers” like to set public schools up to fail by setting unrealistic goals that they can’t reach in their charters except by kicking out kids they don’t want. The public schools must enroll everyone, including the kids pushed out by charters.

One troubling note. In interviews, Cassellius identified one of her “victories”:

She pointed out that while she served for eight years as education commissioner, she pulled together the state’s teachers union and the administrator and school board associations to craft a new teacher evaluation system. The process included trade-offs, including a major concession by teachers: the use of student test scores in their performance reviews, a practice that teachers nationwide tend to oppose.

Does she know that test-based evaluation has been discredited over the past five years? Does she know that the Gates-funded program to try this methodology in three urban districts and four charter chains was evaluated by AIR and RAND and found to have no effect, other than to discourage teachers from teaching high-needs students, who are likely to reduce their ranking? It did not raise test scores or graduation rates, did not close achievement gaps, and did not weed out “bad” teachers. Teachers oppose it because it is unfair and ineffective.

Cassellius does not arrive spouting Reformer ideology. That’s a good sign. Bostonians must work together to support their public schools and to restore confidence in them. If she can do that, she will succeed.

Mary Cathryn Ricker is the new Commissioner of Education in Minnesota. This is great news. She is a teacher and a union activist.

Governor-elect Tim Walz selected Ricker, who previously served as President of the St. Paul teachers’ union.

Walz is a former teacher. “Having taught in classrooms from St. Cloud to St. Paul, Mary Cathryn understands the shared challenges and diverse needs of schools across our state,” Walz said in a prepared statement. “This teacher-governor is proud to put a teacher-commissioner at the Department of Education.”

Congratulations to Mary Cathryn Ricker!

This should be an interesting case. Minnesota has some of the most segregated charter schools in the nation. They are designed to be segregated. Seven years ago, journalist John Hechinger wrote about the charter schools of Minneapolis as a revival of “separate but equal,” with schools created for Somali students, white students, black students, Hispanic students, Hmong students. Joe Nathan, charter advocate, explained that no one is forced to go to these segregated charters. That makes segregation okay. But now this idea of voluntary segregation will go to trial.


By Wendy Lecker

In a groundbreaking decision, the Minnesota Supreme Court has determined that claims of public school segregation brought under the State constitution’s education clause are justiciable, that is, they may be adjudicated by the courts. The Court, in its July 25 ruling in Cruz-Guzman v. Minnesota, concluded that a constitutionally adequate education in Minnesota includes ensuring schools are free from segregation by race and socio-economic status.

The plaintiffs in Cruz-Guzman are parents and children enrolled in public schools in Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota. They filed a class action complaint in 2015, contending that school segregation deprived children in these districts of an adequate education under Minnesota’s constitution, as well as the guarantee of Equal Protection and Due Process. The plaintiffs are represented by a team led by Daniel Schulman of the Minneapolis law firm, Gray Plant Mooty.

Education Law Center, along with over twenty of the nation’s leading education and constitutional law scholars, filed an amicus curae brief in the Minnesota Supreme Court in support of the plaintiffs in this case. Jones Day attorneys Todd Geremia and James Gross, as well as Christina Lindberg, represented ELC and the scholars pro bono.

The State moved to dismiss the case, and, in 2017, the district court denied that motion. However, the court of appeals reversed the decision, holding that claims of State violations of the Minnesota constitution’s education guarantee were non-justiciable political questions to be determined solely by the Legislature.

On July 25, the Minnesota Supreme Court forcefully disagreed and reaffirmed the judiciary’s role in ensuring the education rights of Minnesota children.

School Segregation in Minneapolis and St. Paul

In its ruling, the Court noted that the complaint set forth “copious data demonstrating a ‘high degree of segregation based on race and socioeconomic status’ in Minneapolis and Saint Paul public schools.” The Court further acknowledged that these segregated schools “have significantly worse academic outcomes in comparison with neighboring schools and suburban school districts.”

The plaintiffs identified State policies that cause this segregation, including:

*boundary decisions for school districts and school attendance areas;
*the formation of segregated charter schools;
*the decision to exempt charter schools from desegregation plans;
*the use of federal and state desegregation funds for other purposes;
*the failure to implement effective desegregation remedies; and
*the inequitable allocation of resources.


Minnesota’s constitution provides that “it is the duty of the legislature to establish a general and uniform system of public schools.” The State argued that because it is the legislature’s duty to provide an adequate education, it would violate the separation of powers doctrine for the judiciary to rule on matters of educational adequacy. The State also argued that ruling on these claims would improperly embroil the judiciary in complex educational policy matters. The Supreme Court disagreed.

The Court noted that specific educational policy matters are the province of the legislature, but that fact does not bar courts from determining whether the legislature has fulfilled its obligation under the constitution.

To the contrary, the Court ruled, it would be an abdication of the judiciary’s duty if the Court “unquestioningly accep that whatever the Legislature has chosen to do fulfills the Legislature’s duty to provide an adequate education.” As the Court noted, the education clause is a mandate to the Legislature, not a grant of power.

The Court further held that to rule that these claims are non-justiciable would be to leave claims under the education clause without a remedy, violating the long-held principle that where there is a right, there is a remedy.

The Court also rejected the notion that the judiciary cannot manage complex education claims. It noted the judicial branch role is to interpret the language of the constitution-and “[w]e will not shy away from our proper role to provide remedies for violations of fundamental rights merely because education is a complex area.” The Court pointed out that the plaintiffs are merely asking the Court to declare that the State violated the constitution-they did not ask the Court to dictate to the State how to remedy this violation. Thus, thus the Court need not engage in any improper policy-making.

Definition of Adequacy

The State contended that judicial interpretation of the education article would involve an improper qualitative assessment by the Court of what constitutes an adequate education. The Court agreed that a qualitative assessment is required, but rejected the claim that a judicial definition of adequacy is improper, holding instead that this task is intrinsic to the court’s role.

The Court pointed out that, in a previous case, it had ruled that education is a fundamental right under Minnesota’s constitution. In this case, the Court elaborated, ruling that “an education that does not equip Minnesotans to discharge their duties as citizens intelligently cannot fulfill the Legislature’s duty to provide an adequate education under the Education Clause.”

Importantly, the Court emphasized that “[i]t is self-evident that a segregated system of public schools is not ‘general,’ ‘uniform,’ ‘thorough,’ or ‘efficient'” under Minnesota’s Education Clause.

Districts and Charters Not “Necessary Parties”

The State argued that the case must be dismissed because the districts and charter schools were not joined as “necessary parties.” The Court ruled that the mere fact that the districts and charters may be affected by any ruling in this case does not require their joinder. The plaintiffs are seeking relief solely from the State. The Court noted that “many non-parties are bound to be affected by a judicial ruling in an action regarding the constitutionality of state statutes or state action, but they cannot all be required to be a part of the suit.”

Next Steps

This Supreme Court decision allows the Cruz-Guzman plaintiffs’ claim to proceed to trial. It also provides guidance for the trial court to set qualitative standards against which to assess the evidence of student segregation in the Minneapolis and St. Paul schools. Finally, the Court makes abundantly clear that the courts are available for school children across Minnesota to seek redress of violations of their rights to a constitutionally adequate education which, according to this Court, includes an education that is free from segregation.

Wendy Lecker is a Senior Attorney at Education Law Center

Education Law Center Press Contact:
Sharon Krengel
Policy and Outreach Director
973-624-1815, x 24

Recently I posted an article by pro-choice advocate Paul Peterson about the origins of charter schools. He wrote, “No, Albert Shanker Did Not Invent Charter Schools.” Shanker wanted teacher-led schools, schools-within-schools. He believed that their teachers would be union members and that the charters would be approved by the other staff in the school and by the local school board.

But, wrote Peterson, Minnesota rejected Shanker’s views and instead wrote a law in 1991 that allowed other authorizers besides the district, that cleared the way for entrepreneurs and other non-educators to open charters, and that were not bound to accept teachers unions. Shanker wanted charters to be Research and Development programs for public schools. Led by Ted Kolderie and Joe Nathan, the Minnesota reformers wanted charters to compete with public schools.

A few states made school districts the sole authorizers of charters, and those states have few charters. Most, however, followed Minnesota’s lead, encouraging many authorizers, many kinds of charter management organizations, and the emergence of an aggressive entrepreneurial sector. The latter states have h7 drew of charters of varying quality.

So what happened to charters in Minnesota, the first state to launch them in 1992?

Rob Levine, native Minnesotan, writer, photographer, blogger, assays the failed promises of charters in Minnesota in this post.

Levine shows that the push for charters came not from teachers or parents, but from “a who’s who of the state’s business, civic, foundation, non-profit and political elite.”

“Key to that sales pitch: the idea that education is, at its heart, a business and should operate by the business principles that govern virtually every other sector of the economy, with a spoken goal of “breaking the government monopoly” on public primary and secondary education. The unspoken goals were many and varied but the budgetary results of those efforts are quantifiable: the conversion of nearly $1 trillion spent annually nationally on public primary and secondary education to private profit, and the breaking of the nation’s teachers’ unions.

“To make this palatable, charter boosters focused on a righteous idea: the creation of better and more educational opportunities for poor children of color. In the end, the change model they embraced was what’s sometimes called the Shock Doctrine. First you create and/or declare an emergency in a cash-rich public sector, then you propose the solution that inevitably results in the privatization of as much of the sector as possible.

“In a wide-ranging proposal to reform government called the Minnesota Policy Blueprint, Mitch Pearlstein, a leader in Minnesota’s “School Choice Movement,” admitted as much in his chapter on education policy. In Pearlstein’s view, the answer to the challenges of public education is obvious: all public schools should be converted to charter schools.
Today only two of Minnesota’s 174 operating charter schools have a unionized faculty.”

“It’s not hard to see why that conclusion appealed to Pearlstein. For decades, the teachers unions have been the bête noire to GOP lawmakers in state houses across the nation. As the founder and leader of a Republican “think tank”, the Center of the American Experiment, Pearlstein understood that unions would not be able to get a foothold in charter schools. He was right. Today, 22 years later, only two of Minnesota’s 174 operating charter schools have a unionized faculty.”

Charter promoters, he says, worked out a deal that the state would ignore segregation in return for higher test scores.

“Twenty five years later the results of those “deals” are clear. After adjusting for external factors charter school students do no better, and probably marginally worse, on standardized test scores than students at regular public schools. And charter schools are decidedly more segregated than their regular public school counterparts. By 2016 there were 93 “hypersegregated” schools in the Twin Cities – more than 95% children of color. Almost two-thirds of those schools are charters. Children of color in the state who attend charter schools are twice as likely as their regular public school counterparts to attend a highly segregated school…Today, according to a report from the University of Minnesota’s Institute on Metropolitan Opportunity, “Of the 50 most racially concentrated Twin Cities schools, 45 are charters.”

The Big Daddy of charters in Minnesota is the Walton Family Foundation. Levine points out that “the Walton Family Foundation…has started or helped to start 30 percent of all charter schools ever opened in the state. In effect we’ve partially outsourced the starting up of new schools to the heirs of the Walmart fortune.”

Levine writes that there are 48,000 students in the Minneapolis schools, public and charter. 36,000 are in public schools. Reformers plan to add 30,000 new “relevant and rigorous seats.” He assumes they mean seats in charters. He foresees the withering away of public schools in Minneapolis.

Given the charters’ failure to fulfill any of their promises, he thinks the public might get tired of paying for them. But he worries that time grows short.

“A journalist once seeking to report on the Gates Foundation’s education activity lamented how difficult the job was because nearly everyone in the education community was taking his money. That’s how it is in Minnesota education policy discourse. The only voices making it through our media din are the ones with a steady stash of tax-exempt income. The reformers’ money guarantees a seat at every table.

“When they’re not dredging up or paying for bogus studies or polls, the foundations and organizations are sponsoring events to push their agenda. These events are then broadcast by local public media, presented as a “public service.” This is especially true for non-profit media the foundations contribute to, especially MinnPost, but also including Minnesota Public Radio and Twin Cities Public Television (TPT).

“Education reformers will need all that firepower because evidence and reason are always just around the corner. They can only make excuses for low test scores, all kinds of impropriety, incompetence and segregation for so long. Providing marginally better test scores at a few segregated schools won’t cut it. And it remains to be seen how long the voting public will take paying taxes to support schools while having little to no control over them. If we wait much longer to take action to end the failed experiment of charter schools it could very well result in the end of the Minneapolis public schools, and that’s just a start.”