by Stacy and Bukata
In November a new governor was voted into office and I have been carefully watching the leadership take shape. “One Minnesota” was the slogan around which liberals coalesced. A stated commitment to tackle the significant racial and social inequities present in Minnesota. This sounded promising, but admittedly I have a healthy dose of skepticism around political rhetoric… words are nice, action is essential. While it is still early in the game, time is of the essence.
Obviously one of the areas that give a good indication of the priorities and direction of an administration is where the money goes. While the decision making isn’t unilateral, it is always interesting to see what items on the wish list quickly fall away. As the Minnesota legislative session ended, I was reviewing some of the information and looking for some items. I was particularly interested in the E-12 education budget because there was a bill to increase funding for the recruitment and retention of teachers of color. It seemed like the type of effort that would be a priority for our “One Minnesota “, education focused administration. When I didn’t see it, I had to share my frustrations with Bukata and get his point of view. I’ll go first…
The reason I know this issue is important is because Minnesota continues to have one of the largest achievement/opportunity gaps in the nation. Some quick statistics:
85% of Black/African American and 81% of Hispanic/Latino 4th graders score below proficient reading level as compared to 54% of White 4th graders
In 2018 the graduation rate for Black/African American students was a little more than 67%. It was 51% for Native Americans and 88% for White students.
Demographics of teachers do not reflect the increasing diversity of students. A report released by the Minnesota Professional Educator Licensing Standards Board and prepared by Wilder Research found only 4.3 percent of Minnesota teachers are people of color, while more than 33 percent of Minnesota students are people of color. Some districts report having no teachers of color.
There is deep research that supports the notion that schools need more educators of color if we hope to succeed with students of color. This should not be a difficult concept to grasp! I came to teach as a second career. I can speak firsthand to the power of the students having a shared experience and interacting with someone they could readily identify with. I had high expectations of my students, I could see myself in them and I knew what they were capable of. I have also taught in teacher preparation programs at several universities. One of the unfortunate things that the teacher candidates share is the isolation in a school building. The experiences that some of the teachers of color have with their white colleagues are cause for alarm. It is likely an indication of how white teachers are engaging with students of color in their classrooms.
Yes, White teachers can be inspiring great teachers that develop relationships with all their students, while this may be happening in some cases, it is obviously not happening enough to significantly close the gap. And if we are being honest far to many of White people enter the profession with a savior mentality or bring their unconscious and conscious biases into the classroom.
Increasing the diversity of the educator workforce is an urgent and important goal that will benefit students and adults. Children have one chance to get an education. If we know that recruiting and retaining teachers of color can improve the outcomes for students of color, don’t our children deserve this?
Bukata, your thoughts…
In 2016, we applauded the accomplishments of the record number of women who ran for public office and were elected. We celebrated firsts such as Ilhan Omar (first Somali US congresswoman) along with Rashida Tlaib (Muslim US congresswoman). We praised their fellow congresswomen Ayanna Pressley (first African American to represent Massachusetts) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (29yr old representative from New York City). We understood the importance of more women running and leading in our legislature. If we were to harken back to 2008, we indulged in the presence of our first Black President of the United States, Barack Obama. We concretized his place in our political history by electing him, an African American male, once more in 2012. We were cognizant that his very visage in the highest office in the world symbolized much given our indignant and insidious history as a country with race (chattel slavery, Reconstruction, sharecropping, Jim Crow, peonage, poll taxes, literacy tests, voting rights, civil rights, etc).
Why were these landmark accomplishments so inspiring to us as a nation? Simple.
The very presence of the above mentioned role models engendered others to believe. The mere existence of the aforementioned in their official capacities as victorious elected officials produce square-jawed pride from identity-linked onlookers. They inspired others. They showed it was possible. They knowingly or unknowingly, willingly or unwillingly, shouldered the burden of existence for those who until now had not known of its possibility.
I want to explicitly declare that I peer at this “One Minnesota” budget from a racial lens. On the Love & Struggle blog, we have, and I have, continually beached race in our commentary and have been unapologetic and unabashed about that. This critique is in keeping with that tradition. This is where my critique emanates from and ebbs to. This is not about Governor Walz* and the many legislative partners that constructed this budget, of who I know many. This is neither about the entire budget as a flawed manifestation… there are good parts of this budget, worthy of celebration. This is about a structure and a system that consistently perpetuates racialized results via the power of the racial bargaining chip, which was used in this instance. This racial bargaining chip allows for budget issues and priorities to be framed a-racially whilst all the data and documentation demands us to attack said budget issues and priorities from a strictly and distinctly racial position.
So when it comes to who is in front of and inspiring students of color in Minnesota schools, representation seems not to matter. At least that is the impression delivered since the budget inclusion for increasing teachers of color, HF 824, was left out, bargained out of this budget. When it comes to our most pressing and most plaguing issue facing us a state, the achievement/opportunity gap and its tsunami effects on our state, we provided testimony to an entire state that representation doesn’t matter. There is overwhelming documentation that shows the benefits of having teachers of color in classrooms on achievement of students of color, academically and emotionally.
We know that we are worst in the country at the persistent and in some places growing educational gaps between students of color and white students. (This educational gap proves to have residual impacts on us a state when we see that we also are among the worst in regard to the racial gaps between black and white Minnesotans on indicators such as income, wealth, incarceration rates, unemployment rates, housing, and several others.)
We can not address this intimately racial issue (increasing teachers of color, representation) with a non-racial proposition (new teacher licensure). We will not change this through other means. It is implausible to believe we can change our racial predicament via other means. The reason being that you can change something you don’t acknowledge. No! It has not happen and it will not happen. If it were possible, to address racial predicaments with non-racial solutions, we would have succeeded already in areas like employment and housing and incarceration.
If Representation Matters as we like to espouse then in our “One Minnesota” budget, and specifically the need of increasing teachers of color, we must resolutely speak to racial reasons why we continue to ACT like it doesn’t when it comes to our students of color. We have consistently thrown in our racial bargaining chips to ensure legislative “victory” at the cost of our most vulnerable students at the bottom of the achievement gap.
Going forward I ask that we SPEAK authentically to the racial predicament we are in and its tidal wave’s devastating landfall on Minnesotans of Color then ACT unabashedly to restore the tattered landscape left in the racial tidal wave’s wake. This will mean foregrounding race and bolstering our re-established landscape (via legislation, budget allotments, private/public partnerships, government/community coalitions, etc) to ensure another racial tidal wave doesn’t make landfall in Minnesota submerging Minnesotans of color and sinking our students of color.
That is… IF... Representation TRULY Matters…
*I have thought long and hard about this particular post. The reason being that I personally know the participants in this situation. These aren’t the faceless, nameless boogeymen that are easy targets for critique. These aren’t folks that are simply on the other side of the big, sight-obscuring barrier that makes them “other” and disposable. Quite the contrary, in my smaller community, I have been afforded the opportunity to know on a personal basis Governor Walz, my local state senator Frentz, and local state reps. Considine and Brand who were part of this “One Minnesota” budget process in the legislature. I know personally their significant others. We share mutual friends and colleagues. We have broken bread together. In addition, we have professionally worked together on various ventures here in Mankato to move our community forward. I have run for local political office here with support and encouragement from some of them. We are comrades in the struggle for a more equitable existence.
So I approached this post and provided my above insights with the earnestness of thoughtful deliberation, the genuineness of deep-rooted compassion, the seriousness of potential impact, and the gravity of personal capital and professional history at play. It is with that context that I submitted the above insights on the “One Minnesota” budget “success” that was recently negotiated in this past state legislative session.