Governor’s Budget Proposal

Last week we shared insight into one of Minnesota legislature’s top priorities :: Early-Childhood funding.  More information continues to emerge and Governor Dayton is clear on making this happen.  He is investing in Minnesota student’s and proposing half of his budget to go directly to schools.

The budget includes a plan for free pre-kindergarten starting in 2017. The governor’s pre-kindergarten proposal represents just one of several early childhood priorities that he has put forth to serve children in their earliest years, including child care through Basic Sliding Fee and Head Start. The Governor’s proposal uses a multi-pronged approach aimed at helping Minnesota children to start off in stable environments and serving the diverse needs of Minnesota’s families.

The budget also addresses higher education funding; seeking to improve the Minnesota State Grant financial aid program, and a two year continuance of the tuition freeze at the University of Minnesota.

See the following link for further information on the governor’s proposed budget:

Post contributed by Amy Borden.

TED Talk :: Every Kid Needs a Champion

I love a good TED Talk™. The beauty of having a spare 10 minutes, combined with mobile technology, is that I can learn something new while waiting for who-knows-what, during some evening downtime, or when anticipating a mix and mingle event where it’s helpful to have a discussion topic up my sleeve.

The Achievement Gap is a hot topic. When we talk, we can all agree that there is not one formula for success, but there are two constants: kids and teachers.

Rita Pierson, a teacher for 40 years, delivered a dynamic TED Talk™ that was a rousing call to educators to believe in their students and actually connect with them on a real, human, personal level.

Pierson addresses the impact that teachers can have on kids who have a champion and the impact of academic success, retention rates, self-image and self-confidence. The earlier that kids have a champion accelerates the educational achievement of all children, from early childhood through early career.

TED Talk: Every Kid Needs a Champion

In the words of Rita Pierson:

“Teaching and learning should bring joy. How powerful would our world be if we had kids who were not afraid to take risks, who were not afraid to think, and who had a champion? Every child deserves a champion, an adult who will never give up on them, who understands the power of connection, and insists that they become the best that they can possibly be.”

Championing kids goes far beyond teachers in the classroom. Aren’t we all teachers? Could we all be that adult who should never give up on a child? Whether our interaction with kids is daily (as a parent or classroom teacher), weekly (as a mentor or volunteer) or ad-hoc (Helping Hands, anyone?), we can positively impact kids through encouragement and support.

Perhaps having just one Champion, one bit of encouragement, can make the difference in a child’s life to help them become the best that they can be.   That is an idea worth spreading.

Post contributed by Merris Greiber.

Advocacy and Action Nationally – Early Counts in St. Petersburg, Florida

This Christmas I was telling my dad about the work we’re doing through the Junior League of Minneapolis and specifically in Advocacy.  (Not really) to my surprise, he was very well educated on the achievement gap and had a ton to share with me.

His closest peer at work is Chair/Chief Volunteer Office for their local YMCA in Florida.  In the past 2-3 years, their organization has kickstarted a campaign, Early Counts, geared toward early-childhood development and kindergarten readiness.  The goals of this program are to improve academic success, increase post-secondary attendance, lower crime rates, etc.  Sound familiar?

Earlier today, I had a great conversation with my dad’s peer to learn more about Early Counts and the work they are doing.  Many of their insights mirror those we have seen in Minnesota –

• By age 5, 90% of a child’s brain structure is developed – meaning family and community environment play a critical role in that development.

• Voluntary Prekindergarten Education programs aren’t always accessible or financially viable for families, making them unattractive.

Since the implementation of Early Counts, they have opened two early-childhood schools in the community for children aged 2-5.  One of their schools was donated to them and results so far have been outstanding.  At the start of the year, 38% of students were considered kindergarten ready and now that number is up to 83% after just one year.  In addition, 81% of students enrolled receive scholarship money through the YMCA or government ELC programs, making education affordable.

Since joining the JLM, I’ve learned a lot about the Achievement Gap, specifically in Minnesota and the Twin Cities.  But it’s important to remind ourselves this is a national issue as well, and there are some great things being done nationally to close it.  It’s this kind of work that keeps me continuously engaged and excited about advocacy and demonstrates that every action counts.

If you’re interested, below are some additional resources on Early Counts.

Early Counts Official Website –

Early Counts Video –

Post contributed by Carrie Curtis.

Advocacy Book Recommendation :: How Children Succeed by Paul Tough

At first I was intrigued by a writer who has contributed articles on education, child development and poverty and then went on to write a book – How Children Succeed.  I believe there are many steps that can be taken to help our children align themselves to success, but Paul Tough argues that character, perseverance, curiosity, optimism, and self-control are the qualities that matter most in the measurement of achieving success. I personally believe these character skills can be nurtured early on and throughout a child’s life.

By page 20 of Paul Tough’s book I realized that the JLM’s Backpack Buddies program’s first benefit is providing nutrition over the weekend. Then I realized by providing this food, we are alleviating a poverty associated stress which is a hindrance of success. This continued aid may lead to hope and optimism with our backpack buddies.

I encourage you to read How to Succeed to see what ideas, notions and possible JLM projects can be envisioned for the future of our community. In addition, here is an article from The Economist on the book.

Post contributed by Renee Evanstad.

Minneapolis Mayor Rybak’s 2013 State of the City Speech

Mayor Rybak gave his State of The City Speech this week. Check out an excerpt on education and his thoughts on the achievement gap. To view entire speech, click here.

MayorBuild a Path for the Next Generation

The year 2025 is 12 years away. Most kids born this year will be in 6th grade. Today’s first graders will be graduating from high school. The 9th graders I talk to this fall about their careers will have been out of high school for nine years. Those who go on to higher education will have graduated five years earlier. Young people who graduate this year will well into of their careers.

By 2025, we will know whether Minneapolis’ next generation will be successful, or we will know whether another generation of Minneapolis will accept a shocking achievement gap that should never have been seen as acceptable.

Of the top 20 metropolitan areas in the country, Minneapolis–Saint Paul has the largest academic achievement gap. We are: DEAD. LAST. Our achievement gap means children of different races in our city have different futures. We would be outraged if we heard about this in another place and we should be even more outraged that it happens in our hometown. It is a social-justice issue. It is a civil-rights issue. It is an issue that is central to our economic future. And it may get worse.

Consider this: Our planners tell us that if we get the growth we want — if our population grows by 65,000 people between now and 2025, that growth will be almost exclusively among people of color. That is also the part of the population — African Americans, Native Americans, Latinos — that is suffering from the greatest disparities in academic achievement. So if we don’t take dramatic action, the achievement gap we should find totally unacceptable today will be dramatically bigger in 2025.

This is a crisis and we have to act like it. When the 35W bridge collapsed, we didn’t spend a few decades admiring the problem and another few decades having polite conversations about a few things we might want to do. But that’s what we have been doing for far too long with the collapse of the future of some of our kids.

There is absolutely nothing in the City Charter that gives the Mayor or this Council responsibility for the children of Minneapolis — but I’m proud that none of us acted that way. We have made major investments of our time and money in helping our kids. As a city and a community, we have:

• Brought down teenage pregnancy rates by 47 percent.
• Brought down the number of youth involved in violent crime by 59 percent.
• Brought down the number of children with elevated lead levels by 73 percent.

We helped lobby successfully for a $28-million Promise Neighborhoods grant from the Obama Administration for the Northside Achievement Zone. Our budgets have also funded the Youth Coordinating Board’s work coordinating out-of-school time.

It is very clear to me that the most significant factors that contribute to the achievement gap happen outside of school — poverty, public and mental health, family success, segregation, discrimination. But it is also an inescapable fact that our schools are not as successful as they must be in closing these gaps. Every elected official, every community leader, everyone in this room and everyone who cares about the future of Minneapolis must be willing to plunge into the challenging issues and politics of making our schools better.

I will continue to support Superintendent Johnson’s goals:

• High-quality teachers and principals in every school building. The single most important school-related factor in student success is the quality of the classroom teacher. We have to do more to place the very best teachers in schools with the most academically challenged students, do more to reward teachers and principals who are effective, and do more to remove those who aren’t.
• More high-quality instructional time, and more high-quality out-of-school time. Minneapolis has historically had one of the shortest school days and school years in the state and nation. This past school year we added four additional days to the school year. This is a start, but we need more.

Improving academic performance for every child in every school presents a significant challenge, but let’s remember that our community has tackled tough issues involving kids before, and succeeded. That has been the case with our work preventing youth violence. And no city in America is doing a better job creating summer jobs and career paths than we are with STEP-UP. Since 2004, we have placed 16,000 youth in high-quality summer jobs, and we are on track to place another 1,900 this summer.

And talk about closing gaps: our STEP-UP youth are 86 percent people of color, 50 percent from immigrant families and 93 percent from households living in poverty. Simply put, STEP-UP is a key strategy for closing both our racial economic gaps and our racial achievement gaps.

Minnesota’s Latest Test Scores

Minnesota has released the latest test scores and many experts are calling them less than stellar.  Scores show reading levels remain flat and they show a wide gap between white students and students of color.


Reading and Math proficiency of Minnesota students – 2012 assessment results

• American Indian: Math 38.5%, reading 55.9%
• Asian: Math 59.4%, reading67.3%
• Black: Math 32.6%, reading 52.7%
• Hispanic: Math 38.2%, reading 53.9%
• White: Math 68.4%, Reading 81.9%

For more on the story and links to audio clips head to Minnesota Public Radio.

Minnesota’s Waiver from ‘No Child Left Behind’

Under the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act, many Minnesota schools have been mislabeled as failures – even schools that perform at high levels.

Minnesota created an accountability system allowing us to be one of 10 states to be granted the waiver from NCLB.  The system has set the goal to reduce the achievement gap by 50% in the next 6 years.

The Minnesota Department of Education explains the Waiver Request.