Choice words

State leaders again ignore school choice advocates.

The fight for school choice that ramped up this past spring is just the beginning of a movement that continues to gain traction, but it faces an uphill battle against state leaders’ apparent lack of interest in expanding educational opportunity.

Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) died at the hands of Democrats during last month’s special legislative session, not much of a surprise when you consider Gov. Tim Walz’s indifference to school choice advocates.

More than 100 of them, mostly parents and students, gathered in May outside the governor’s residence to encourage Walz to support ESAs. Walz’s response? A form letter filled with platitudes. 

“How frustrating,” said Kofi Montzka, a mother of three and a key organizer of the rally.

Montzka is a founding member of The Exodus Minnesota, an organization started by five black mothers who believe expanding school choice is a must to ensure all students receive a quality education.

The moms gave a state patrol officer a letter that highlighted the need for greater school choice in Minnesota, emphasizing that COVID-19 and widening academic achievement gaps have made this need more evident than ever before.

Walz’s response letter showed his disconnect with addressing the moms’ concerns: “Thank you for taking the time to contact our office.” Standing outside of Walz’s home is not contacting his office.

Walz, a former teacher and union member, did not use the terms school choice or ESAs anywhere in his letter.

Efforts to urge Walz and state leaders to include ESAs in the final education bill of the 2021 legislative session didn’t let up, though. Parents and other advocates used a June press conference to again focus on the need to help families find alternatives to the failing status quo, calling out Education Minnesota (the state’s teachers’ union) and Democrat leadership for not putting kids first.

“If we are saying Black Lives Matter, that needs to start with a quality education,” said Rashad Turner, executive director of the Minnesota Parent Union and former leader of the St. Paul chapter of Black Lives Matter. “How many times do we need to show up to talk about how important our children are before folks like Education Minnesota and the Democrats in the Capitol understand? Quality education should not be political. You are on the side of children, or you are on the side of the status quo. My ask is that you get on the side of children and families.”

Benito Matias, principal of Ascension Catholic School in north Minneapolis, called on state leaders to act on behalf of Education Savings Accounts.

“Here is an opportunity to deliver some justice and some equity” through ESAs, Matias said. “We are asking politicians to listen to what families are saying, to what scholars are saying, and help us provide voice, choice and agency for all families in Minnesota.”

Senate Education Committee Chair Roger Chamberlain said the only way ESAs wouldn’t be included in the final bill “is if House Democrats and Gov. Walz block it. They can no longer just sit behind the doors. They will have to face the public, face parents, and tell them they don’t deserve equality.”

A March poll from Morning Consult shows that 69 percent of Minnesotans support ESAs.

Kofi Montzka leads a school choice rally outside the governor’s residence.