Minneapolis Star Tribune. March 7, 2021.

Editorial: Adding diversity to state teaching ranks is a critical goal

Studies show that students of color benefit, which could help close stubborn achievement gaps.

With the ultimate goal of improving achievement among all Minnesota students, state lawmakers are considering legislation to help boost the numbers of K-12 teachers of color.

The Increase Teachers of Color Act (HF 217), authored by Rep. Hodan Hassan, DFL-Minneapolis, encompasses a number of strategies, including increasing mentoring opportunities, helping unlicensed school staff become teachers and hiring bonuses for out-of-state teaching candidates. State Sen. Jim Abeler, R-Anoka, has a companion bill in the Senate.

Similar bills stalled in committee in 2019 and 2020. This legislation should advance. In addition, lawmakers should heed recent recommendations from the legislative auditor to clarify and streamline various state efforts with similar goals.

It’s critical work because as the student population has changed, teaching ranks have not. About 34% of Minnesota students are kids of color, while only 5% of their teachers come from racially diverse backgrounds. And that 5% figure has remained relatively flat in recent years.

Studies show that having more racial diversity among teachers is academically helpful for students of color. The benefits include improved reading and math test scores, better graduation rates and increased interest in attending college. Putting more teachers of color into classrooms could also help reduce Minnesota’s stubbornly entrenched achievement and opportunity gaps.

Existing diversity efforts also need scrutiny. A legislative auditor’s report released last week found that a state grant aimed at increasing the number of teachers of color slightly increased the numbers.

But the report added that more must be done to collect and report data in uniform ways. The lack of reliable data makes it difficult to evaluate the impact of the program. The report also recommended that lawmakers clarify the criteria for how the grants can spent.

The Collaborative Urban and Greater Minnesota Educators of Color (CUGMEC) grant program dates back to 1997 but has changed over the years. In 2020-21, eight state higher education institutions received $970,000 under the program and used nearly all of it to provide direct assistance to teacher candidates for such costs as tuition, books and exam fees.

Demand was much higher, however, with $2.7 million in requests received. Advocates want to see the grant program’s budget raised from $1 million to $6 million to increase the pool of aspiring teachers.

The auditor’s report rightly suggests that lawmakers consider the array of programs that can impact the number of teachers of color and determine how the grant program fits into the big picture. State Rep. Jim Davnie, DFL-Minneapolis, chair of the House Education Finance Division, said he expected committee members to work on improving the programs.

Meanwhile, Hassan’s bill has gained support from about 40 organizations — including education associations, teachers unions and youth groups — and it deserves the Legislature’s full attention this year.

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Mankato Free Press. March 7, 2021.

Editorial: COVID: Walz plan continues to show success

Minnesota has weathered the devastating pandemic better than any other state in the Upper Midwest. Credit goes to Gov. Tim Walz and his health experts, as well as the people of Minnesota who did everything that was asked of them to slow the spread of the virus.

Health care providers and organizations as well as researchers at the Mayo Clinic and the University of Minnesota were also strong partners in the effort, and they too, deserve credit.

As we near the end of the pandemic — and yes, Walz and other experts are describing “an end” — we should look back on the lessons learned and take pride in the fact that when community health was at risk, our communities stood up to be counted as part of the battle.

Since the beginning of the pandemic Minnesota has the lowest per capita case rate and lowest per capita death rate of any state in the Upper Midwest, according to the CDC. By far.

Minnesota’s death rate is 116 per 100,000 residents. Wisconsin’s is 121, Iowa’s 174, South Dakotas’ 213 and North Dakota’s is 190. Minnesota’s case rate per 100,000 is 8,625, compared to Wisconsin at 10,633, Iowa at 10,703, South Dakota at 12,754 and North Dakota at 13,131.

Walz has often emphasized to Minnesotans, until all were sick of hearing it, that keeping all the mitigation measures in place, social distancing and wearing a mask would serve us well. And it has. There’s no doubt about this. Businesses were able to stay open as a result.

And as the vaccines roll out, Minnesota is again doing well. Vaccines are expected to hit 50,000 a day soon. Providers, public health and pharmacies are vaccinating Minnesotans as fast as the vaccines are available. Minnesota is in the upper third of states for vaccination distribution.

Many other Midwest states came nowhere near to public health precautions Minnesota implemented. And their citizens paid the price for policies that seemed motivated by politics more than public health. Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds and South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, both Republicans, were the worst offenders.

Walz has been criticized for renewing emergency orders, with GOP legislators saying they need to be more involved. We think that would be a bad move, and a recipe for the gridlock for which the GOP is known. Walz actually made several proposals last year to share the power with caveats for safety, but Republicans mostly rejected the offer.

Again, Walz was successful because he developed a partnership with the University of Minnesota, Mayo and players like Health Partners. But the biggest factors were the people of Minnesota.

If we can just keep safe practices in place a few weeks longer, we can look forward to Twins games and the State Fair.

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