Minnesota Republicans & Democrats vote for “Full-service community schools”


Last week, the U.S. Congress re-wrote No Child Left Behind (NCLB) via the re-authorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) and re-worked the federal mandates with the passage of the Every School Succeeds Act (ESSA).  Minnesota’s three Republican Congressman, Rep. Erik Paulsen, Rep. Tom Emmer, and Rep. John Kline, joined a unanimous block of House Democrats to vote for ESSA. 64 House Republicans voted against the bill.  New Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan touted the bipartisan effort and while the focus has been on the reforms to NCLB in the monstrous 1,016 page bill, there are other elements that have received far less scrutiny.  Alpha News will take a closer look at these changes and how new federal and state programs will impact Minnesota schools.

Minnesota legislators approved a 2015 K-12 budget bill which included a $500,000 pilot program for “Full Service Community Schools” (FSCS)  which are also included in the new federal ESSA bill.

According to the state law, these community schools will provide early childhood education, childcare services, and summer or after-school programs in addition to a long list of services including; parenting education activities, mental and physical health, juvenile crime prevention and rehabilitation services, nutrition services, primary health and dental care, mentoring and other youth development programs, mental health and counseling services, adult education including English as a second language, and homeless prevention services. They will make public school buildings into “one-stop-shop” locations for a variety of social services for the students as well as their parents and school staff.

“Full-service community schools” (FSCS) at the federal level were a part of a 2011 bill authored by U.S. Rep. Steny Hoyer, (D-Maryland), and re-introduced in 2014.  FSCS made it into the final ESSA bill last week.  ESSA language requires that FSCS’s complete: “A needs assessment that identifies the academic, physical, nonacademic, health, mental health, and other needs of students, families, and community residents.”  This new federal asssessment will determine where these schools will be targeted.

The Department of Education doled out $6 million in federal funding to FSCS’s this year under the previous ESEA.  32 organizations in 13 states have received grants since 2010 under project titles like “from cradle to college” and “El Sueño de Esperanza (A Dream of Hope).”

$250,000 in state taxpayer-funded grants have already been awarded to four school districts that will implement a “full-service” model including health care services, social services, as well as regular teaching.  Richard Green Central Park Elementary in Minneapolis, Earle Brown Elementary in Brooklyn Center, Gage Elementary in Rochester, and Lincoln Park Elementary in Duluth are the recipients.  An additional seven schools applied for the tax dollars, but were turned down for now.  The schools will be required to hire or contract with a partner agency and hire a site coordinator to oversee the program.

Earle Brown Elementary school in Brooklyn Center has had a FSCS model for four years, and advertises that “Schools become centers of the community and are open to everyone – all day, every day, evenings and weekends. Full-Service Community Schools extends its reach through civic engagement and co-located services, such as onsite community and staff clinics, Family Resource Rooms and social service support.”  The district offers free and reduced cost medical services through Park Nicollet, vision services in partnership with Sears Optical, low cost dental services from Children’s Dental Services, free and low cost mental health services through several local clinics, and free sexual health services are available twice a month from Annex Teen Clinic.  The Brooklyn Center district coordinates new baby welcome visits and in-home parenting classes.  The district says that “Most programming is open to ALL community members.”

The Star Tribune reports that parents can also use the schools and “access a family resource room for help with food, clothing, housing and health care. They can use computers to write resumes and attend parenting classes.”  In addition, family therapists are also provided.  Bring Me The News featured a tweet from Education Minnesota, the powerful state teachers union, promoting the FSCS model last week, featuring a parent stating that the community school model in Brooklyn Park “helped her and her children get through a divorce.”

Education Minnesota, which employs dozens of highly-paid lobbyists at the Capitol, wants an additional $2 million in funding from the legislature to expand FSCS in Minnesota.  Teacher’s Union President Denise Specht is already asking for part of the current $2 billion budget surplus to fund more FSCS’s.  “We’re asking lawmakers to tap the $1.9 billion budget surplus to pay for the ‘shovel-ready’ projects the department couldn’t fund this year, and to expand the concept even further.”  At the national level, the American Federation of Teachers has also worked for more full service schools.

The FSCS bill at the state level was introduced as Senate File 1206, authored by Sen. Alice Johnson, D-Spring Lake Park and House File 1709, authored by Deputy Minority Leader Rep. Erin Murphy, D-St. Paul.  The bills sought $10 million in state funding for full-service schools, but they were never voted on, and instead were passed on to the House Finance committee, chaired by Rep. Jenifer Loon, R-Eden Prairie.  A $500,000 pilot program was incorporated into and passed as part of the final Omnibus K-12 Education bill.  Loon told The Pioneer Press last week that she’d like to see the results of the pilot before investing more money.

With both state legislators and Minnesota’s Congressional delegation supporting the new “one-stop-shop” school building model, look for one to open in your school district in the near future.