Shannon Gibney on telling your story and special education

From an 11-part series recorded at the April 16, 2022, “Celebrating Badass Minnesota Women” event.

Thanks to First Unitarian Society of Minneapolis for hosting the April 16, 2022, event on behalf of the 38th anniversary of Minnesota Women’s Press and its kickoff of Changemakers Alliance.

To become a supporting member of Changemakers Alliance and its conversations-to-CALLs-to-action, click here. Contributions also can be made via Venmo at @mnwomenspress.

“If you are a public school parent somewhere in MN who would like to work to fully find K-12 Special Ed throughout the state, please fill out this form. We’d love to have you on board. We are especially interested in connecting with parents in suburban, exurban, and rural districts.”

Click here


My name is Shannon Gibney. I am so happy to be here with the amazing work that the Women’s Press is doing. I am not going to take up very much time, because look at these brilliant people here. Angela, you set such a great tone for all of us.

I am a writer — for children, tweens, teens, grown-ups, as well as scholarly work while I teach at Minneapolis College. My students are fantastic. So, of course, probably the biggest message I have to share with you today is central to the Women’s Press which is: Tell your story. Even when, and especially when, it is really inconvenient and it is really complicated. As Audre Loude would say: at the risk of being bruised and misunderstood.

Tell your story, because what can happen when you do that is — we think it is really about us unburdening ourselves, and it is, but what will happen is that invariably there will be other people that you encounter [who say] ‘oh my god, they did that to me, too.’ And, ‘we should do something about this.’

That is so healing. That is the healing part of trauma that, unfortunately, as female body people we have to deal with disproportionately relative to male body people.

I am a proud Minneapolis public school parent. I am a product of public schools in Ann Arbor, Michigan, in the 80s and 90s where there was just sort of widespread understanding that you need to fully fund public schools in order for them to be successful. We are in a different era now, as we know. One good thing about this recent strike by the Minneapolis teachers’ union was that I think it really pushed a lot of us parents to really get in deep — what are the funding issues that are really impacting Minneapolis and districts across the state?

The one that me and some of my friends have really located as sort of the nexus of where we need to get activated and focused is to fully fund special education in K-12 education throughout the state. We think this is winnable. It might take two to four years, because there are plenty of legislators who are saying they are not going to fully fund. It burns your blood when we have a $9 billion surplus which is projected to be $6 billion dollars next year.

There are parents’ groups — it is kind of beautiful to see, there is something in the zeitgeist — trying to organize people around this very specific issue of fully funding special education in Minnesota. I believe Minneapolis lost last year between $50 and $70 million. It is an unfunded mandate by the state.

This is a fixable problem. I have an action alert especially for folks in certain Senate districts to contact their legislators now. The education finance committee is meeting now to deal with this stuff.

Background: Why special education needs statewide supporters

Excerpts from a memo to the Parent Legislative Action Committee, written by Josh Downham

We are asking members to reach out to friends and family members in suburban and rural communities represented by Senate Republicans. Helping these friends and family members understand the importance of special education and English Learner funding to students and families and the impacts on property taxes will be important. When districts are required to provide services, but the state does not fully fund the services, districts have two options — raise local property taxes or cut other services which may lead to increased class sizes or loss of other programs or services.

House and Senate Omnibus Education Bills

The House is dedicating $1.1 billion for schools for next year, and $2.2 billion for the following two years. The House education bill includes $422 million to special education in the first year and $997 million in the following two years. Their bill also phases in full funding of English Learner services. These two provisions would have a significant impact on the Minneapolis Schools budget. The Senate education bill does not provide any new funding to schools for special education and English Learner programming. It provides $30.7 million for teacher training for literacy next year and $1.4 million for the following two years. If an agreement is reached at the end of session, it will require Senate Republicans to come up significantly in their education expenditures. You can help activate parents in their Senate districts by following the steps in the action alert.

Action Alert to Education Advocates

We are preparing for the last six weeks of the legislative session. Several parents groups are advocating for the full funding of special education and English Learner services. They will provide concrete action steps parents and community members may take to help push for fully funding these important, mandated services.

The Minnesota House and Senate each released their education budget bills. The House heard your voices; their omnibus education finance bill would allocate $1.1 billion to early education through grade 12 for fiscal year 2023 and $2.2 billion for fiscal years 2024 and 2025.

The Senate, unfortunately, did not put forward any new funding for priorities, such as special education or English Learner programs. The Senate bill would allocate only $30.7 million for fiscal year 2023 and $1.4 million for fiscal years 2024 and 2025.

Time to Connect with Senate Republicans

When the Legislature returns from their break on April 19, they will have a month left in the legislative session. Now is the time to ramp up pressure on Senate Republicans who must strike a deal with Governor Walz and House Democrats if any new school funding will get passed this session.

We are asking advocates to reach out to friends and family in key suburban and Greater Minnesota communities represented by Republican State Senators.

Finding your State Senator is easy

  1. Visit
  2. Type in home address to find their State Senator
  3. Ask them to call or email their State Senator

What should they ask for?

Ask their State Senator to fully fund special education and English Learner programs. These important, mandated services are underfunded and have required school districts to seek increased property taxes to make up for inadequate state funding. The State Senate can hold down future property tax increases by fully funding special education and English Learner programs.

Here are a few of the communities we are seeking to activate to call their State Senators:

  • Winona, Preston, Caledonia
  • Blue Earth, Janesville, Winnebago, Fairmont, Jackson, St. James, Lake Crystal
  • Worthington, Luverne, Windom, Pipestone, Tyler, Tracy, Ivanhoe
  • Centerville, Lexington, Lino Lakes, Blaine, Circle Pines, White Bear Lake, Dellwood, North Oaks, Hugo
  • Rochester, Stewartville, Farmington
  • Dover, Eyota, Oronoco, Mantorville, Kasson, Byron, Pine Island
  • Stillwater, Franconia, Scandia, Forest Lake, Bayport, Lake Elmo
  • Grand Rapids, Bemidji, Walker
  • Mound, Minnetonka, St. Bonifacius, Long Lake, Maple Plain, Excelsior, Shoreview

Please connect with your friends and family members over the next two weeks. Help them understand that the underfunding of special education and English Learner services are impacting all districts in the state. Ask them to email or call their State Senator.

Sample Letter

Dear Senator  ______,

My name is ____ and I am a resident of ____ [town].

I am writing to ask you to please use the state budget surplus to fund special education and English Learner services this legislative session. These are important issues for our family and our school.

When the state mandates that schools provide these important services, but does not provide the funding, schools are faced with two options — increase local property taxes or cut other areas, which result in larger class sizes or loss of other critical programming.

[add personal story about your family’s experience. This could be: large class sizes, loss of a program your child liked, or issues with special education services]

Please support closing special education and English Learner funding gaps this session, which will hold down future property taxes and ensure our students get the services they need. 

Thank you,

[your name]

UPDATE April 27, 2022 — The Minnesota House of Representatives advanced a supplemental education budget plan to deliver over $3 billion worth of new investments to support students, families, public schools, and school staff. 

The bill’s mental health package, totaling $475 million, will address the shortages of school support personnel that benefit students’ social, emotional, and physical health, and fund wrap-around services for students. The legislation provides dedicated funds to support hiring around 1,100 student support personnel so that students have greater access to school counselors, social workers, psychologists, and nurses.

The bill addresses the more than $700 million funding shortfall for special education services, as well as the nearly $150 million deficit in English Language Learner services. The proposal provides more than $500 million annually over the next three years to reduce the amount school districts pay to make up for these shortfalls, reducing the special education “cross-subsidy” by over 55%, and would eliminate the English Language Learner cross-subsidy by 2026.

Opportunity gaps begin long before kindergarten. Access to early learning is one of the best ways to prevent them in the first place. The plan expands Early Head Start and awards early learning scholarships to more than 20,000 low-income and vulnerable infants and toddlers. Once these children turn four, they’ll have access to a statewide, voluntary pre-kindergarten program through local schools, Head Starts, and licensed child care providers. Together, these investments will put thousands of children on the path to success in kindergarten, school, and life. 

The House DFL proposal uses Minnesota’s historic budget surplus to provide $1.15 billion in additional education funding in fiscal year 2023 and $2.12 billion in fiscal years 2024 and 2025.

The Republican-led Senate is producing its own education bill.