Minneapolis Says It Can't Afford To Pay Educators Enough To Live. The State Has $9 Billion Surplus.
Teachers and educators in Minneapolis went on strike last week for the first time in 50 years, asking for higher wages, smaller class sizes and more funding for mental health services for the children in their schools.
Minneapolis teachers make an average of $71,535 a year, $14,000 less than teachers in nearby St. Paul will be making, after that district avoided a strike by negotiating with teachers and striking a deal. Far more dire, however, is the situation of education support professionals (ESPs) in the district, who make an average of $24,000 a year, which is definitely not enough to live on in Minneapolis, or pretty much anywhere else these days. ESPs include custodians, teachers' aides, bus drivers, cafeteria workers, paraeducators who work with special needs students, school secretaries and most anyone working in a school who is not a teacher.
In a video produced by More Perfect Union, several of these ESPs explained that they have coworkers who live out of their car, and who are working two to three jobs just to get by. Being that this is entirely ridiculous, they are demanding at least $35,000 a year. According to the MIT living wage calculator, this works out to less than a dollar more per hour than the living wage for a single adult with no dependents in the Minneapolis area. So that's not exactly crazy. They're not asking for the moon, they're asking for rent.
NEW: Minneapolis Public Schools educators tell us they\u2019re forced to work 2-3 jobs to make ends meet, and some of their coworkers are homeless.\n\n@MFT59 teachers & educators are striking to demand at least $35K/year.\n\nIt\u2019s their first strike in nearly 50 years.pic.twitter.com/YxDxHSZhHD— More Perfect Union (@More Perfect Union) 1647103795
Minneapolis Superintendent Ed Graff has said that while he agrees that teachers and support staff should be paid more, the district just can't afford it, and will have to lay off about 250 teachers next year already.
The school district says part of the reason public schools are having trouble securing funding is that students are being siphoned off by charter schools and private schools. Charter schools also siphon funding from public schools, which means public schools keep getting worse because they don't have the money they need to function.
As a result, only 58 percent of Minneapolis students actually attend public schools in the city. There is also the problem of families moving due to no longer being able to afford to live in the city — perhaps because they are making $24,000 a year working at the schools.
The district says it's expecting a $22 million budget shortfall next year, despite having received $75 million in COVID relief funding.
The state itself has a record $9.5 billion budget surplus, and teachers are asking them to use a portion of that money to properly fund their schools and pay educators, which is quite reasonable. Governor Tim Walz has already said he would like to spend a portion of that money on education. (Naturally Republicans have balked.)
The thing is, if these schools can't get funding because they don't have high enough enrollment, they're going to have increasingly lower enrollment going forward, and then even less funding, and so on and so on. If they're paying ESPs less than they would make at Target, they're going to have a hell of a time finding any to work there, which will also make the schools worse, which certainly is not going to help enrollment either. It's a path that is not leading anywhere good. If they fund these schools and make the necessary improvements, higher enrollment will follow.
Plus, there's the added bonus of not having to live with the shame of paying employees so little that they have to live in their car or work multiple other jobs just to get by.
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Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse