At a September 12 press conference dedicated to a new full-service community schools initiative currently underway in Minneapolis, the city’s mayor, Jacob Frey, made a strong declaration: “Community-based public schools work.”
They work Frey insisted, because “success in school is just as dependent on what happens
outside the classroom as inside.” The community-based schools Frey was referring to are those that offer medical and mental health support, for example, in addition to the usual instruction in academic subjects.
Public school advocates in the city could be excused for pausing to take in the moment: The mayor of Minneapolis had just indicated his willingness to support bringing wrap-around services to the city’s most marginalized schools as a way to boost student achievement. Frey’s announcement stands in stark contrast to moves made by the city’s previous civic leaders, who often publicly threw their weight behind market-based education reform efforts.
In 2010, for example, then-Minneapolis Mayor R. T. Rybak signed on to a District-Charter Collaboration Compact under the guidance of a pro-reform think tank, The Center for Reinventing Public Education. The assumption then, as outlined in the district-charter agreement, was that a “cadre of high-achieving charter schools” should be replicated throughout the city as a way to level the education playing field for all students.
The support for community schools stands in stark contrast to previous city efforts behind market-based education reform.
The District-Charter Collaboration Compact never amounted to much in Minneapolis, as far as its stated goal of having the Minneapolis Public Schools share data and other resources with local charter school networks. Still, it spread the idea that “school choice” would be the best way to bring greater opportunity to marginalized students in the area. There are now many more charter schools in and around Minneapolis, which have contributed to economic and racial segregation.
That is why Frey’s public support for the full-services community school model is especially noteworthy—and, according to some, is not at all an accident.
Robin Wonsley Worlobah, a community organizer for the statewide teachers union, Education Minnesota, says that she worked closely with Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board members to secure their support for a deeper investment in the city’s public school system. It was part of an unusual approach to funding community school efforts that could provide more security into the future.
Once she and other organizers had a commitment from some Minneapolis Park Board commissioners, who were ready to include a funding request for full-service community schools in their upcoming budget, the group launched a “successful social media campaign,” in Wonsley Worlobah’s words, which included Twitter and Facebook posts. The campaign “targeted Frey” while asking for greater involvement from city leaders in public education.
Soon, a new coalition was born. As part of its 2018 contract negotiations with the Minneapolis Public Schools, the local teachers union was able to get the district to earmark $150,000 over five years in funding to establish wrap-around services at three existing district sites. Then, the Park Board put in a similar funding request—$150,000 annually for five years—into their budget for the wrap-around, or full-service community school, model. The coalition hopes that these funds will be used to implement this model at three existing Minneapolis school sites.
The park board’s budget has to be approved by the city’s Board of Estimation and Taxation, as it would include a 5.7 percent levy. To garner support for this increase, Frey was asked to voice his support for the funding and for the overall concept—that public schools can and should be invested in fully, especially in under-resourced communities.
Pursuing a broader network of school, park, and civic support is one way advocates hope to ensure greater sustainability of the full-service model.
Pulling Frey in was a way to “amplify our message,” Wonsley Woroblah insists, noting that such city-school-park-board partnerships are not typically found in Minnesota. (Frey has also partnered with the Minneapolis Public Schools on a plan to address the growing number of homeless students in the city.)
Typically, full-service community schools have been funded by grants or other philanthropic efforts, in addition to occasional state or federal funds. But those funding streams often run dry in a relatively short amount of time, Wonsley Woroblah says, as they did in Minneapolis recently. In 2015, the state legislature approved $500,000 in one-time funds to support four full-service community schools across the state. The money helped set up a site at Minneapolis’s Green Central Community School, where ninety-four percent of students live in poverty according to federal guidelines.
When the money ran out after two years, however, the full-service community school model was abandoned at Green Central School.
Pursuing a broader network of school, park, and civic support is one way Wonsley Worlobah and her colleagues would like to ensure greater sustainability of the full-service model. Using the national community school model as a framework, Wonsley Worbolah hopes to help three new full-service sites get off the ground in Minneapolis. The national coalition of full-service community schools is run by the Institute for Educational Leadership, which receives support from funders such as the Annie E. Casey Foundation. More broadly, the full-service schools approach has garnered bipartisan support.
For Wonsley Worlobah, the stakes couldn’t be higher. “There has been an intentional effort to let the market solve issues in education,” she says. But that approach has come at a cost. “Low-income communities of color are most impacted by the threat of school closures,” which can be a consequence of pursuing a competitive, choice-based model.
Instead, Wonsley Worlobah says she would like to “reroute resources back to these communities,” rather than see them drain away as students get bussed out of their own neighborhoods.
On September 28, the Minneapolis Board of Estimation and Taxation will decide whether or not to support the park board’s funding request for full-service community schools. Still, as she waits for word on the board’s decision, Wonsley Worlobah is feeling hopeful. The Minneapolis Public Schools’ commitment of $750,000 over five years to the full-services community school model is more than the total amount allocated for such schools by the state legislature just a few years ago.