Minnesota Governor Tim Walz announced a new education plan, dubbed "Due North," on Monday for schools in the state, ahead of the release of his state budget proposal for the next fiscal year. While state officials did not give specifics on cost, the plan included a number of proposals that would expand services to children in the state's public schools.
The plan's priorities include efforts to grow and support the state's corps of teachers, establish an Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Center at the Minnesota Department of Education, expand the academic and educational offerings to students, increase funding for education, improve academic standards and ensure every student learns in a safe and nurturing environment.
"The first priority is meeting the needs of students during and after the pandemic ... we need to support our schools as we continue to prioritize in-person learning for as many students as possible," said Heather Mueller, deputy commissioner of the state Department of Education.
The state started allowing younger students to return to in-person learning last week. Progressively older sets of students in the state were expected to return to the classrooms in waves under the changes announced earlier this month.
This summer and next year, Mueller said, "we need to ensure our students are staying on track and they're staying healthy mentally and physically."
Walz said the state will look at this school year "much differently than we have before. The good news is that hopefully, around May, June, the normal times schools would be finishing, we'd be getting back into a place where we could do those normal things back in the classroom ... we both have to recover from COVID, get through it, first of all, recover from it and then launch into what comes next. and they're not mutually exclusive; they'll build on each other."
Walz did not discuss costs for the plan, but said the state's budget represented leaders' moral priorities.
The plan's emphasis on racial equity comes in the wake of national protests over racial disparities in police responses after theby a Minneapolis police officer.
"Minnesota has much to be proud of around education: some of the finest educators in the world, some of the best research at our universities and to be very honest, some of the best outcomes. But what we knew was as we started to dig deep into that over the last several years, that those outcomes weren't always equal and depending on the color of your skin or your zip code, it could have a big impact on what those outcomes look like. And that wasn't only a moral imperative to fix, it was an economic imperative to fix for the state, ensuring that every child regardless of skin color or zip code had the opportunity to get a world-class education," Walz said.
While the pandemic has led to conversations about social distancing and mask-wearing and vaccines, he said, "its also shined a very harsh spotlight on those inequities, whether they're inequities in education opportunities or outcomes."
Minnesota has seen a decline in new reported coronavirus cases over the past few weeks, following a post-holiday surge that was still well below November case counts. CBS Minnesota reports the state announced 800 new cases and three deaths Monday, bringing the state's death total to 6,098.
Nearly 267,000 people in the state had received at least one dose of the vaccine as of Friday, the station reported, and state officials announced changes to the state's vaccine efforts Monday that allow educators and child care providers to get vaccinated.