Minnesota Coalition Aims to Increase Access to High-Performing Schools

Minnesota Comeback, a coalition of foundations, schools, and community organizations dedicated to transforming K-12 education in Minneapolis, has announced initial grants toward — and raised some eyebrows with — its goal of creating thirty thousand seats for low-income students in high-performing schools by 2025, MinnPost reports.

Grants announced by the organization total more than $2.7 million, including a grant of $574,575 to the Minneapolis Residency Program in support of its efforts to diversify the teacher workforce in the city; $250,000 to the Achievement Network in support of leadership development for educators; $475,000 to two high-performing charter schools; $224,374 to help new schools in the city with facilities planning, development, and financing needs; and another $1 million in support of parental engagement efforts yet to be finalized. In an already crowded education landscape, however, the organization's ambitious goal is raising questions about how it will create tens of thousands of "rigorous and relevant" seats in high-performing schools and whether another education coalition dedicated to closing the achievement gap in Minneapolis, which already is home to Generation NEXT and the Northside Achievement Zone (NAZ), is needed.

Incubated at the Minneapolis Foundation as the Education Transformation Initiative and backed by twenty-eight foundations — including the Bush, Cargill, Joyce, McKnight, and Walton Family foundations — Minnesota Comeback has engaged in an in-depth systems mapping project to plot out the education ecosystem and identified five key levers of change: schools, the talent pipeline, community engagement, policy, and facilities. Its research also has shown that, of the nearly forty-two thousand Minneapolis students who attend public district or charter schools, only eleven thousand have access to seats in "rigorous" schools counted among the top 40 percent in the state. To help create the thousands of additional seats it has promised, the coalition has convened a diverse group of stakeholders to lead implementation teams focused on key areas.

Critics of the organization have argued that it will redirect public funds from district schools to support new charter schools. But Al Fan, executive director of the organization, told MinnPost that success will require collaboration across all three school sectors. "We know those seats are going to be in existing schools today throughout the city, and we have to find ways to transform them into great seats," said Fan. "There are transformational strategies, startup strategies, scaling and replication strategies. We agree we need to take multiple approaches to this."

As for duplicating the efforts of other groups in the city, Fan said his organization is focused on schools and systems change, while NAZ works to support children and their families both in and out of school and Generation NEXT works to ensure that students benefit from the most effective programs. "I would say all three of our organizations are fairly young, so no one has collected enough data to say, 'This is the right approach,'" said Fan. "And even if we did, I think the answer would be we need all to work together. We realize that if we don't provide enough funding and support and resources to the entire ecosystem, and build them up together, we're really just spending our money inefficiently."