Vallay Varro was a founding state executive director. She now serves as the president of 50CAN.

Back in January I stood in the atrium of our state capitol to ask Minnesotans like you to join a new movement to give all of our children great public schools.

It was a leap of faith. I left my job as education policy director for St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman and my seat on the St. Paul School Board to found MinnCAN because I felt that nothing was more important for the future of our state than closing the achievement gap, and reaching that goal would take an unprecedented statewide movement that could build the political will for change.

Six months and one legislative campaign later, I am happy to report that this movement we are building together is changing the conversation and getting results for kids.

Over 2,500 Minnesotans sent 19,000 letters to lawmakers as part of our Minnesota School Emergency in Effect campaign. Thirty-eight news stories featured the campaign. We published three issue briefs and one report that made sure that the debate about education policy was grounded in the facts about what works. And we launched a statewide communications effort grounded in over 50 speeches around our state, countless one-on-one meetings and one provocative photo advocacy campaign. And all of our work paid off.

Back in January we announced three bold goals for the 2011 legislative session. Thanks to your support, we rounded out the campaign with a perfect score, winning all three goals:

After six months of pulling together as Minnesota’s brand-new, energized education reform movement, here are the results:

  • Remove roadblocks for teachers: A win. Our struggling schools need as many great teachers as they can get, and Minnesota law put up major barriers to bringing in teachers through alternative routes. We marshaled the research and set forth a set of common sense reforms in our inaugural research report and then crisscrossed the capitol making the case that in the new legislative session removing the roadblocks for teachers should be job #1. We called MinnCAN members to action and over 1,200 of you responded with letters to your elected officials urging them to take early action on this critical reform. On March 8th, we celebrated a huge victory when SF0040 was signed into law, opening up alternate paths such as Teach For America for talented teachers to get certified and into Minnesota classrooms.

  • Build a barometer of teacher effectiveness: A win. We published a comprehensive review of the best research on how to measure teacher effectiveness and outlined the smart policies to bring this approach to schools across our state. We hosted a policy forum that brought together legislators and national experts to advance the conversation about how to make these ideas law. We crafted compromise legislative language grounded in these discussions. We published op-eds in the Pioneer Press and the Star Tribune. We testified at the capitol in support of these reforms. Most importantly, 1,700 MinnCAN members took action. In the final hours of the historic government shutdown, we celebrated a second victory: a statewide teacher evaluation system.

  • Clear a path to quality pre-K: A win. We set out to expand Minnesota families’ access to high-quality pre-K. We published a comprehensive issue brief that brought together the best research around the country on pre-K and provided a clear roadmap for getting Minnesota’s pre-K policies back on top. We partnered with former Federal Reserve economist Art Rolnick on an op-ed in the Pioneer Press. We launched a photo advocacy campaign that asked real Minnesotans to take photos with blindfolds to visualize the cost of not having information on quality programs. We scored a significant victory when the legislature passed $4 million in scholarships for low-income families to access preschool. When the legislature failed to enact a pre-K rating system to tie those dollars to quality, we appealed to the governor, sending a letter signed by our strategic partners urging him to expand the Parent Aware rating system through administrative action. Last week, that’s exactly what he did. Because of it, Minnesota will be ready to compete for federal dollars in the Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge, and preschool families will be able to find and access the best program for their children.

The goals we accomplished are the kinds of policy changes that will put Minnesota on track to closing its achievement gap, but there’s still a lot of work to be done. If you believe in MinnCAN and the kind of success we achieved this year, then please consider supporting our long-term mission to make Minnesota schools the envy of the nation. Click here to donate today.

This campaign was full of twists and turns: an early victory on alternative certification, political stalemate leading up to a government shutdown, compromise on teacher evaluation in the final hours of the special session and a last-minute move by the governor to expand the quality pre-K rating system. We emailed and facebooked and tweeted every new development, calling on you for help in holding lawmakers accountable and spreading the word about our new education reform movement. You responded in the thousands and that made the difference.

If you are reading this email, it means you are a MinnCAN early adopter, and for that, I thank you. I now ask you to help us continue advocating for the changes it will take to make sure every one of our kids gets a world-class education.

I can promise you this is just the beginning. Working together, we will ensure that every child in our state is afforded the opportunity to a great education because great schools change everything.



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