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Programs striving to close student opportunity gaps ask lawmakers for $13.4 million

Opportunity gaps because of income or race persist among Minnesota schoolkids. In fact, it is widely accepted the state has some of the worst opportunity gaps of any in the country.

But some programs have seen remarkable success in closing those gaps. The St. Paul Promise Neighborhood is one such program.

“I’m proud to report that SPPN serves over 800 children during the summer months to prevent summer slide, 100% of parents reported their children were more excited about school … and then 86% of students maintained improved literacy skills,” said Rep. Kaohly Vang Her (DFL-St. Paul).

She sponsors HF2056, which would greatly increase funding for cradle-to-career community initiatives that fall within the Education Partnerships Coalition.

The House Education Finance Committee laid over the proposal Tuesday for possible omnibus bill inclusion.

These initiatives are currently funded via the education partnership program. Operated by the Department of Education, it is a two-tiered grant program with $2.6 million set aside per year for Tier 1 grantees, while $480,000 per year is disbursed to Tier 2 grantees.

Her’s bill would redefine Tier 1 as the “neighborhood partnership grant” and Tier 2 as the “regional neighborhood partnership grant,” and appropriations for both tiers in the coming biennium would surge substantially.

The bill would provide $4.6 million annually for the neighborhood partnership grants. The money would be split equally between two Twin Cities organizations – the St. Paul Promise Neighborhood and the Northside Achievement Zone.

Additionally, regional neighborhood partnership grants would have $2.1 million to make use of. The money would be divided equally between: Northfield Healthy Community Initiative, Red Wing Youth Outreach Program, United Way of Central Minnesota, Austin Aspires, Rochester Area Foundation, Greater Twin Cities United Way, and Children First and Partnership for Success. 

Jeremiah Ellis is the director for partnerships for Generation Next, an initiative funded by the Greater Twin Cities United Way.

“Generation Next exists to create solutions to the education challenges that cannot be solved in silos,” he said. “We bring together system leaders to target the pain points in the education pipeline.”

He named early grade literacy, social-emotional learning, and post-secondary pathways as areas of focus to close opportunity and achievement gaps for students.

While applauding the work done by the organizations, Rep. Shane Hudella (R-Hastings) questions if they truly need more taxpayer money, noting some of them appear to be operating with a surplus based on their tax filings.

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