Educators, students, and families streamed onto the Capitol lawn from every direction. Credit: Jaida Grey Eagle | Sahan Journal

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Update: Wednesday, March 9, 3:09 p.m.

Streams of educators, students, and parents converged Wednesday afternoon on the south Capitol lawn in St. Paul for a rally to fund education.

One of those educators was Khadra Mohamed, an educational support professional at Transition Plus, a south Minneapolis program that helps 18- to 21-year-old students with educational disabilities as they transition to adulthood.

Her duties range from helping students with schoolwork, to feeding them, changing them, and behavior support. “You name it,” Khadra said. Plus, as a bilingual educator, she’s often called on to help interpret for families who need to navigate the school support system. She’s been with the district for more than six years, and earns less than $25,000 a year, Khadra said.

“At the end of the day, my check is not enough to pay my rent and my bills,” she said.

Patrick Henry High School students gathered at the Capitol to support their teachers, with colorful signs and colorful language. Credit: Jaida Grey Eagle | Sahan Journal

Some Democratic state legislators appeared at the outdoor event in a show of support, including Representative Jim Davnie, the chair of the House education finance committee, and Senators Omar Fateh, Erin Murphy, and Melisa López Franzen. None of the officials spoke, however, or discussed the potential for additional state spending. 

The crowd cheered on the union speakers, who appeared to be in high spirits despite the biting cold. Thousands of picket signs waved across the south lawn.

Organizers concluded the rally by leading the crowd in song, calling out the union letters “MFT” to the tune of “Purple Rain.” A strike band—complete with drums, trombones, and saxophones—played “When the Saints Come Marching In.”

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Fifteen-year-old Desirae Burch and her teacher, Robert Lewis, came to the rally on a field trip. Their school, Menlo Park Academy, is a “contract alternative school” within Minneapolis Public Schools. The district contracts with some community agencies to provide educational programming to at-risk youth. The school serves about 75 students who need more personalized attention. 

The teachers at Menlo Park Academy, like Lewis, are not unionized, and classes remain in session. But Lewis said it was important for them to show support.

“The contract alternatives have the same problems but worse, because we have less funding and higher needs,” Lewis said. “We’re just trying to manage. Some days, it’s just hanging out and we can’t really do classes because people feel so stressed.” 

Desirae Burch, 15, a student at Menlo Park Academy, and her teacher Robert Lewis came to the rally on a field trip. Credit: Becky Z. Dernbach | Sahan Journal

Teachers expend a lot of time imparting basic skills, such as how students can learn to regulate their stress, he said.

Desirae had made signs by attaching computer paper to yardsticks borrowed from the classroom. Her signs displayed a photo of yesterday’s rally outside the Nutrition Service Center and the words, “Just like students and teachers said, if we don’t get it, shut it down!”

“This is my passion. I love to draw, I love to color,” Desirae said. “I’m just inspired because this is all my teachers….They need their money.”

Becky Z. Dernbach is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.