Minnesota faces no greater challenge than eliminating achievement and opportunity gaps for students of color and children living in poverty. Too many children in our state do not receive the education they deserve. I witness the harmful consequences in my East Side St. Paul community.
As a member of an academic community whose intellectual tradition insists on social justice and collective action, I accept responsibility to use the gifts of intellect and imagination to resolve the most complex issues confronting us. As a lifelong educator, I am convinced we cannot rely on the valiant efforts of our colleagues in public education alone to confront these pervasive challenges.
It is time for our nonpublic and private schools to more explicitly pursue educational justice — honoring the dignity of each child and promoting creativity, achievement and inclusion in our classrooms. To do this, we need to eliminate barriers to enrollment in nonpublic and private schools that have strong records of achievement for children affected by poverty and exclusionary racial practices.
There can be no question that there is more than enough work for all of us, work that demands our best thinking and courageous effort, work that requires us to move past simple categorization as “public” or “private” educators or schools.
When we waste precious time defending these labels, the crisis of educational injustice in our communities deepens and our children suffer.
As an example of this commitment, I offer our work at St. Pascal Baylon School on St. Paul’s East Side, where we express this deep commitment to social justice by honoring the dignity of each student, in solidarity with the community, and through tenacious elimination of financial barriers to enrollment.
As a matter of justice, no family who seeks to enroll a child in our school should be excluded by inability to pay. Legislative approval of the Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit, included in the joint House-Senate omnibus tax bill, would significantly improve our school’s ability to serve low- and middle-income students, in a manner comparable to similar programs in 17 other states, including Iowa, South Dakota, Arizona and Florida.
I wish to be clear that I believe elimination of financial barriers is an essential element of our mission as a nonpublic school. Like our state’s public schools, our job is to eliminate economic injustice and expand access to educational opportunities that reflect a clear commitment to individual dignity and solidarity in every classroom, with each teacher, and in every measurement of student achievement and success.
This work is profoundly deeper, and much more significant, than the element of choice alone. For when we are clear that the vision for nonpublic and private education in our state embraces elimination of injustice and decades of racial, economic and educational inequality, these schools unquestionably possess a powerful, shared interest with their public school counterparts.
With creative, courageous and collective vision, we together alter unjust and inequitable systems and structures, establishing new relationships that promote the common good. There is no question this is an acceptable reason to support creative legislative proposals that eliminate financial barriers to enrollment in excellent schools for our neediest families.
Anne Weyandt is vice chair of the school board at St. Pascal Baylon, St. Paul. She is dean of the College for Adults and associate professor of education at St. Catherine University and president emerita of Anoka Technical College. The opinions expressed here are her own.