Minneapolis educators picketed their schools Tuesday morning as the city’s teachers’ union began its first strike in more than 50 years to push city officials to tackle low pay, lack of diversity among teachers , large classes and student mental health issues.
“The past two years have demonstrated that the status quo is not good enough,” Becky Pringle, president of the National Education Association, said in a statement. “Minneapolis students and their families have weathered a pandemic, continued police violence, and an economic system that has left students, their families, and educators behind.”
The strike, which was called after months of intense negotiations between the teachers’ union and city officials, comes at a time of deep tension for the teaching profession, which itself is recovering from the pandemic as it is asked to deal with the severe academic loss and trauma experienced by students, often understaffed.
“These students deserve class sizes small enough for individual attention as well as investments in mental health services and social-emotional learning,” Pringle said, adding that the school district should also invest in recruiting and retaining students. educators of color. and increase the salaries of teacher assistants and other education support staff.
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“MPS has the resources to make these investments,” she said. “The question is whether they value Minneapolis students as much as their educators.”
The union’s list of demands includes raising salaries, especially for education support professionals, whom they are asking to raise starting salaries from about $24,000 a year to $35,000; improve the recruitment and retention of teachers of color; hire more nurses, counselors and social workers to address student mental health challenges; and the size of the lower classes.
District officials have made it clear that while they want to provide all the support educators need, ultimately they cannot afford the entire list.
“While it is disappointing to hear this news, we know that our organizations mutual priorities rest on our deep commitment to the education of Minneapolis students,” Minneapolis Superintendent Ed Graff said in a statement. . an effort to reduce the duration and impact of this strike.”
Graff said the district was financially crippled due to declining enrollment during the pandemic. The city’s K-12 enrollment fell to just under 30,000 students at the start of this academic year, from 33,500 in fall 2019.
Notably, nearby St. Paul Public Schools narrowly avoided a strike after district officials reached a tentative agreement with the St. Paul Teachers’ Federation Monday night. The deal, which includes higher wages, class size caps, increased mental health supports and one-time payments for educators, reflects many of the same demands the Minneapolis union is making.
The strike is the city’s first since 1970.
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, which has 1.7 million members, blasted city officials for refusing to meet stated demands, especially in light of the “unprecedented amount of funding for the stimulus” to school districts by the federal government to address issues related to the pandemic, including student recovery, staffing shortages and school safety.
“There is no excuse for districts to make cuts in light of this historic cash injection,” she said.
“Our children, their families and their educators have faced tremendous challenges over the past two years,” she said. “They did their part to navigate the rough seas together. Educators and students should be the priorities, and districts should provide the conditions and environment they need to succeed.
Denise Specht, president of Education Minnesota, said the issues that forced Minneapolis teachers to strike are the same challenges facing school districts across the state, and the lack of will to address them was particularly unacceptable given the state’s $9.25 billion surplus. which he announced earlier this month.
“No educator should have to fight as hard for the schools our students deserve, but if that’s what it takes, we’re with you,” she said.