ST. PAUL, MINN. (WCCO) — Gov. Tim Walz released on Monday a slate of his education priorities that he believes will help ensure high-quality education is available to all Minnesota students no matter their race or socio-economic status.

The “Due North” plan, which is the product of work by various stakeholders, has a long list of proposed changes to current K-12 funding, curriculum and other academic offerings with an overarching focus on racial equity.

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The proposal lacks details on costs, but Walz is expected to include them in his budget proposal he’ll reveal Tuesday. Minnesota faces a $1.3 billion deficit, and his pitch for funding will require Republican support to pass a divided legislature.

“Minnesota has much to be proud of around education,” Walz said. “As we started to dig deep into [education] over the last several years, those outcomes weren’t always equal, depending on the color of your skin or your zip code.”

Walz is proposing anti-bias training for school staff, a new “Equity, Diversity and Inclusion” center at the Minnesota Department of Education to address systemic racism, and expansion of recruitment programs to get more teachers of color in the classroom. He also wants curriculum to be inclusive of ethnic studies and reflective of students of color and Indigenous students.

“This plan represents freedom from incomplete education,” said Denise Specht, president of Education Minnesota. “When the contributions of whole groups of people are omitted from the curriculum and the legacy of racism is ignored, we are not teaching our students the whole story of our nation.”

2019 report from the Federal Reserve of Minneapolis found deep disparities in education outcomes across all of Minnesota when researchers studied performance on standardized tests, graduation rates, and indicators of college readiness across racial, socio-economic and ethnic lines.

Walz called fixing this achievement gap a “moral” and “economic” imperative, especially since the pandemic has widened these inequities.

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“This needs to be the best state in the country for a child to group up, Brown, White, Black, Indigenous,” Walz said. “This plan is to try and have us focus and think about it and drive or decision-making around children.”

Walz also said he is also prioritizing increased needs due to COVID-19, which has kept some students out of the classroom for nearly a year. His proposal calls for expanding academic opportunities and mental health services beginning in the summer of this year and through the following school year.

In his budget Tuesday, he will ask the legislature for a “one-time investment to ensure pandemic enrollment loss does not negatively impact students.” The dollar amount is unclear, but Walz acknowledged he will have to inevitably compromise with Senate Republicans to get it passed.

“There’s folks going out pretty far over their skis a little bit to ask for some of this at this moment,” Walz said, acknowledging the budget woes. “My guess on a lot of this, you may be surprised in this area where we find more commonality.”

Sen. Roger Chamberlain (R-Lino Lakes), chair of the education committee, said in a statement that there were aspects of the proposal Republicans could agree on, but overall the plan is “nothing new or creative.”

“Minnesotans are not asking for more of the same. They are asking for choice, for self-determination, and to get all kids back in schools right now,” Chamberlain said. “The governor is welcome to keep traveling down the same failed path we’ve always taken. Senate Republicans will focus on things that actually work.”

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Find more details about the proposal here.

Caroline Cummings