With all that has been written about the Great Resignation, it’s time to say thank you to the tens of thousands of educators working in union to improve the unacceptable status quo and join this moment of Great Resilience in Minnesota’s public schools.
We withstood two years of COVID-19 restrictions, illness, chaos and stress. We’re springing back from the attacks by big money groups on our efforts to keep students safe, to reduce the racial opportunity gaps and to teach an honest history of race and racism.
As I write this, 36 percent of our 355 locals in regular school districts have unsettled contracts. That’s more than 28,100 members, including the striking educators in the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers and Education Support Professionals, still pushing for better learning and working conditions.
I’ve visited more than 190 districts this school year and I’ve heard the same stories and challenges wherever I go. This year, we’re all fighting for the same things.
There’s not enough time to teach. We’re living in a mental health crisis that’s getting worse. Redundant paperwork is burning out special education teachers. Our schools are failing to recruit and retain enough educators of color. ESPs need big raises just to survive. Administrators ignore our input on important decisions.
In early March, these issues brought our union family to the edge of a strike in St. Paul and pushed the members of the MFT to the picket lines for the first time since 1970. For educators outside the Twin Cities, their issues are our issues. Their fight is our fight.
They’re the same issues Education Minnesota is pushing for at the Legislature. With a $9.25 billion budget surplus, the state can afford to pay for progress in every district. It’s only a matter of priorities, values and political will.
Some groups at the Legislature have other plans for the money, including more tax breaks for the wealthiest corporations and richest households. We cannot allow certain politicians, and the multi-millionaires who fund their campaigns, to continue rigging the tax code against working families.
Instead, I believe educators all over Minnesota can take inspiration from the striking Minneapolis educators who have marched, chanted and even danced through the cold and snow for the safe and stable schools their students deserve. If they can find that energy, so can all of us.
Please support our Minneapolis educators by going to www.safeandstableschools.org and follow the links to donate to the strike fund, sign a petition, write a letter to the board of education or any of the other engagement opportunities.
At the Legislature, tell your local lawmakers that students and educators do their best when they are in environments where they feel welcome and supported. Minnesota must spend a meaningful portion of the surplus on the mental health of students and educators, which means funding schools so they can hire more counselors and other mental health professionals.
And when we turn even more of our attention to the 2022 campaigns for governor, constitutional officers and the state House and Senate, we will need to say loud and clear that everyone who works in public education deserves respect. We need to elect leaders who will work together with educators and recognize our work, expertise and effort with fair compensation and safe working conditions.
Without respect for educators and easy access to mental health care for everyone who needs it, offering every Minnesota student a great public education will only get more difficult. Today, I’m thankful for all the educators bringing their passion, commitment and resilience to make the changes we all want for our students.