Striking Minneapolis teachers to lawmakers: $9.25B surplus means state can boost funding
The Minneapolis Federation of Teachers and Education Support Professionals on Tuesday went on strike for the first time in 50 years
ST. PAUL — Hundreds of striking Minneapolis public school employees, along with parents and other supporters, rallied in the cold on the Minnesota Capitol steps Wednesday, March 9, to pressure lawmakers into using the state’s record $9.25 billion budget surplus to boost education funding.
The Minneapolis Federation of Teachers and Education Support Professionals on Tuesday went on strike for the first time in 50 years over issues including teacher pay, benefits and class sizes. The union is also asking Minneapolis Public Schools to increase mental health support, encourage staff diversity and to introduce safer COVID-19 protocol.
Their demands include raising the minimum starting pay for education support professionals from $24,000 to $35,000 a year and increasing pay for teachers to levels competitive with surrounding school districts. The district is among Minnesota’s biggest and has more than 30,000 students.
In a speech to the rally, Minnesota AFL-CIO President Bernie Burnham, a former elementary school teacher and former president of the Duluth Federation of Teachers, questioned how the state can bring in so much revenue and not spend more on education.
“In a state with a $9 billion surplus there is no reason you should be standing out here today,” she said to cheers from the crowd. “There is no reason education should be underfunded in the state of Minnesota — it's just wrong.”
Minneapolis teachers’ union president Greta Callahan told rally-goers that what happens in Minneapolis Public Schools can set precedent and have implications for educators across the state.
Democrats have introduced a slate of bills that would boost funding for various needs in K-12 schools and address staffing diversity concerns. Republicans have not shown an appetite for those plans and have pointed to historic funding levels for public schools in 2021, Forum News Service previously reported.
“Most of us know that the things you are fighting for are in the Walz budget, they are in bills just waiting to be passed,” Callahan said. “Let’s ask the Senate Republicans: Where are those bills?”
Wednesday’s rally at the Capitol’s front steps featured impassioned speeches from state and local labor organizers and Minneapolis Roosevelt High School teacher and activist Marcia Howard, who roused the crowd with chants and words of encouragement for strikers.
“When we are on the line for a living wage, they’ve got to listen,” she told the crowd “It took us 50 years to get here, but we’re here! Hold the line!”
The St. Paul teachers union threatened to go on strike but was able to reach a contract with its school district. Callahan said that as of Wednesday morning Minneapolis teachers had not reached an agreement with their school district.