BY ELINA KOLSTAD
As the teachers strike unfolded and the district appeared more interested in the visuals of negotiating than they were in trying to meet the teachers’ demands, my husband and I had several conversations marveling at how little the district seemed to care about its own school system and its future success or failure. Just a few years ago they pushed through the Comprehensive District Design (CDD) at great expense, often in construction and remodeling (sometimes at schools that had just recently been extensively remodeled). Meanwhile, according to Sahan Journal, “Minneapolis teachers have not received more than a two percent raise at any point this century, and in some years have received no raise at all.”
But we couldn’t figure out why the district would destroy its very reason for existence. Surely without functional schools those lucrative administrative jobs would also disappear. For a long time the best explanation I could come up with was that individuals were blinded by personal biases. For example, Karn Engelsgjerd, who is running for school board in my district this year, is the board chair for EdAllies, an organization that promotes charter schools.
However, in the past few days the missing piece has fallen into place. In its article, “How the Minneapolis Foundation Bankrolls the Destruction of Public Schools,” Racket dives deep into the role of the Minneapolis Foundation in promoting charter schools, its goal of destroying the Minneapolis Public Schools, and more specifically the goal to weaken “one of the last unionized sectors in the country, public school teachers.”
This is still somewhat surprising to me. Whenever I see a list of the best places to live, it seems like a good school system is one of the major factors taken into account by the compilers.
Therefore the idea of intentionally destroying the schools is one that baffles me because it would clearly hurt Minneapolis economically. But if one assumes that teachers’ unions are the main factor driving up the cost of education and that they are therefore driving up taxes, one can see how the rich and powerful might want to undermine the union. Wealthy people and large corporations, like those that fund the Minneapolis Foundation, clearly feel that paying less in taxes is more appealing than living in a vibrant, well-regarded city. Keep in mind that Goldman Sachs cut its GDP forecast for the U.S. economy after Sen. Joe Manchin made it clear he wouldn’t support Build Back Better. Government spending helps the U.S. economy, but it doesn’t help the rich the way tax cuts do.
What we are seeing with the Minneapolis Foundation at the local level is yet another manifestation of this. While Minneapolis would benefit from a strong public school system in terms of attracting workers, lowering crime rates, and having a better trained workforce, and while our local economy would benefit from MPS workers making more and therefore having more spending power, this would also mean those with wealth would have to pay their fair share in taxes. While often couched in terms of “fiscal responsibility,” it is nothing more than greed, pure and simple.
As I write this, the teachers are voting on a contract with the district. What little information has been made public about the tentative agreement reveals that teachers have been offered a paltry fraction of what they were asking for, much of it temporary. I am grateful that the teachers held their ground because without that we would not have the small wins that we do, but while the battle may be over, the war has just begun.
We need to pay attention to politics and put pressure on our elected officials. Gov. Walz has been deafeningly quiet on the issue, even while the state of Minnesota is sitting on a huge budget surplus. The governor’s silence and the recent approval of the police contract by the Minneapolis City Council, which contains no changes to disciplinary action, no changes to misconduct, and only seems worried about maintaining staffing levels, reinforces the dynamic that produced the push to defund the police. The whole point of “defund” is that we are constantly told there is a limited amount of money for public services; we then throw money at our police department and force teachers to strike for three weeks just to get the bare minimum of what is necessary. If the governor had pushed for some of the state surplus to fund public education he could have undercut the argument that we need to take money out of policing to pay for things like education. By refusing to engage in conversations about using the budget surplus for our public schools the governor has made the push to defund the police feel more relevant and necessary than ever.
Over and over again, in all sectors of American life, we see the same thing. Rather than looking to systems that are the most successful and highest rated in the world, such as Finland’s school system, we instead repeatedly fall for the trap of “innovative” and highly individualistic models that are based more on assumptions than fact. One need only look at the cautionary tale of Grafton, N.H. Selected by a group of Libertarians to serve as an example of good governance, they drastically cut the town’s budget; it was soon overrun with crime, trash and, finally, bears.