Hear Denisha Merriweather’s Story: Why school choice is still the best answer to Minnesota’s achievement gap

Center of the American Experiment has championed school choice for over 25 years. Our state used to be a leader, an innovator in creating real choices for parents. Think charter schools and postsecondary enrollment option (PSEO).

But that was decades ago. Since that time, the nation has moved ahead of us while Minnesota schools, particularly in the core cities, have fallen further behind. We are now the home of the nation’s worst achievement gap for poor and minority children. But it is not just kids in the cities; students all over the state are bored out of their minds, some graduating without a clue as to where they fit in to the working world, or what to do next.

Minnesota keeps increasing K-12 spending, year after year, while getting the same results, year after year. Governor Dayton and the legislature just increased spending for 2018-2019 by a whopping $1.35 billion ($483 million in “new” money, the rest is from “automatic” increases).

Some of the new money will go to programs for nursery schools. Governor Dayton and the union that purports to represent teachers (Education Minnesota) have campaigned relentlessly to add an army of licensed nursery school teachers to solve Minnesota’s student achievement issues. They got $50 million to spend on programs that undermine private nursery schools and day care options that increasingly have had to compete with “free” public school programs. Surely sending our tots to school at age four is not the answer.

The achievement gap is not the fault of teachers; most teachers enter the field eager to teach and inspire their students. To the extent there are bad apples in the profession, you can thank Education Minnesota and union work rules that place the financial interests of adults over the educational needs of children, and treat teachers like trade unionists instead of professionals.

Education Minnesota spends millions of dollars (taken from teachers) to block any attempt to offer good alternatives to failing schools, opposing common sense changes designed to empower parents and schools to reach each and every student. They protect their own political power and the status quo at the expense of the students that come there for an education.

How many generations of Minnesota students are we going to fail?

Schools are not entirely to blame. Too many students show up at school unprepared to learn, and go home to an environment that undermines their studies and character development. The Center has also spoken out for decades about the terrible tragedy of family breakdown.

The good news is, there is an answer, even for children who come from tough family situations. It is very simple: School Choice. It does not cost more and it produces better results.

Meet Denisha Merriweather from Jacksonville, Florida. She failed third grade twice, and got into all kinds of trouble. But she caught a break: she moved in with her Godmother who found a school that figured out how to reach her. Denisha says School Choice saved her life. You can hear her story here. Sounds like a fairytale but it is a true story. Why don’t Minnesota kids have the same opportunity as Florida kids? As Denisha asked, “What are we waiting for?”