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Walz presses lawmakers on summer school plan

Minn. House passed the governor's $150 million expanded summer learning package, but the Minn. Senate hasn't accepted the plan yet

MINNEAPOLIS — As time ticks down in the final two weeks of the 2021 session, Gov. Walz once again called on the Minnesota Legislature to approve funding for his enhanced summer learning program.

To help drive home the point Walz visited to Alice Smith Elementary School in Hopkins Tuesday, where he visited with children and spoke to the media about the $150 million package he first proposed in February.

"It's now time for us to move the summer learning plan," Walz told reporters as he stood outside the entrance to the school with student looking on at the event.

"It's now time to give consistencies to our administrators, to our teachers, to our youngest learners, and to our taxpayers. We know the federal government and President Biden under the American Rescue Plan has sent the money here to be able to get it into the hands, to make a difference to our young people."

The event coincided with Teacher Appreciation Day and Walz, a retired high school geography teacher, praised educators for the innovations that have enabled children to keep learning during the historic COVID pandemic. 

He said nobody should assume all the children at Alice Smith Elementary, or any other school for that matter, have lapsed in their education. At the same time, however, he said it's essential to make sure families can help their children who want to feel better prepared for the next academic year.

Walz's plan would be funded by a mix of federal COVID relief dollars and state money.  In short it would pay for:

  • Expanded voluntary summer school options
  • Expanded summer pre-K programs
  • Field trips and other hands-on learning experiences
  • Expanded mental health services for students and staff
  • One-time supplemental funding for schools that lost state per pupil aid due to COVID-related drops in enrollment.

The DFL-controlled House passed a summer school funding package last month, but the governor's plan is yet to be embraced by the GOP-controlled Senate.

Education Commissioner Heather Mueller acknowledged that COVID exhaustion will lead some teachers to take the summer off, and will lead some families to choose other summertime options for their children.

"But it’s not about the choices our families are making, it’s about the choices that we’re making. What it means is we need to ensure that our students have access," Mueller told reporters.

"We want to include opportunities to really reinforce learning for our students, to provide continuity where they may have been some gaps in that. We’re not going to rest this on our students. It’s not their fault. What we are saying is we are providing enrichment opportunities."

Hopkins Superintendent Rhoda Mhiripiri-Reed thanked the governor and his contingent for their efforts to expand summer school programming, and to deliver the aid that Congress passed with this very thing in mind.

"We absolutely need this funding. It will help us add staff. It will help us engage in community partnerships, expand programming to include leadership development, enrichment, acceleration opportunities and field trips."

Some State Capitol Republicans have said they can't support the plan unless there's a mandate that the money can only be used for in-person classroom instruction, rather than distance learning.

Commissioner Mueller said 90 percent of the public school students in Minnesota are finishing the academic year in classrooms settings, and she would expect that to be the case in the summer programs. But she said she also recognizes that some families that have been unable to receive vaccines might be apprehensive, so remote learning can't be ruled out altogether.

"We are going to provide as much in-person learning as possible, because that’s what we have been doing, but we also want to make sure we have that opportunity for families to make those decisions."

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