Minneapolis Public Schools students were struggling academically before the pandemic, but those challenges grew after nearly a year of online learning. To improve students’ academic outcomes, the district used $29 million of its federal pandemic aid this year to create an academic intervention program. The aid was earmarked especially for "learning loss" during the pandemic. This was enough funding for the district to add 400 new positions to its schools this year. But many of the positions in the district’s schools where students are the furthest behind academically struggled to staff those new positions, as well as their regular classrooms. A year later, and the intervention program is being revised and scaled-back.

The district will eliminate all 400 intervention positions for teachers and paraprofessionals it added during the current school year. Each school had at least one team, consisting of a licensed teacher and two unlicensed paraprofessionals in its 2023-24 budget. Some schools had as many as six teams.

Details about the scaled-back program were shared by Sarah Hunter, executive director of strategic initiatives, at the school board’s finance committee meeting on March 19.

The “intervention triad” program will be replaced by 45 new positions at schools which qualify for federal Title I funding. The district defines Title I schools as any school where at least 40% of students would qualify for free or reduced price lunch under federal income guidelines.

The district says a student needs academic intervention if they meet three criteria: below grade level proficiency in math or reading on the fall and winter assessment, and below the 50th percentile in growth between fall and winter assessments in reading or math.

Eligible Title I schools will be provided with at least one staff person one day per week, and no more than four full time positions. The number of positions a school receives will depend on the number of students at the school who qualify for intervention. Hunter said the number of students qualifying for intervention far exceeds the capacity of the intervention positions. Hunter did not share numbers on the number of students who need intervention or the capacity of the program.

To fund the scaled-back program, the district will use $6.3 million in federal grant funding: $4.3 million from its Title I grant, and $1 million each from the district’s Title II grant, typically used for professional development, and its Title IV grant, typically used for “well-rounded education.”

In the 2023-24 budget, Title I schools received $925 per student from the district’s Title I funds. That was reduced to $500 per student for the 2024-25 school year. The reduction is being used to fund the new intervention positions. Principals have discretion over how to use Title I funds in their budget, although they have to adhere to federal guidelines. Schools commonly use the funding to add additional classroom years, licensed support staff like social workers, or paraprofessionals.

Candidates for the licensed intervention positions will be screened by the Academics department, but will be hired by school principals through the district's interview and select process, which begins in April. Interview and select is the process the district uses to hire licensed educators who are currently employed by the district into open positions for the next school year. With limited exceptions, the district does not begin hiring external licensed candidates until June.

Only educators whose licenses are not expiring may apply for a position during the district’s internal hiring process. This means educators who have a Tier 1 or Tier 2 license- licenses available to people with at least a bachelor’s degree but who have not completed a teacher training program in Minnesota- must wait until June to apply for any remaining openings. Tier 1 and 2 license holders are more likely to be employed in schools in the northern half of the district.

Minneapolis Schools Voices has asked the district for information about which intervention positions will be at which schools. We will share that information when it is made available.

The intervention triad program faced several challenges this school year. While many schools in the southern half of the district were able to fill the intervention positions before the school year started, schools in the northern half of the district began the year with many unfilled positions. In addition, as predicted by multiple district principals when the program was proposed in March 2023, many teachers left classroom positions to take the intervention positions in their school, leaving vacancies at some schools that have historically had challenges filling vacancies. As a result, several schools began the school year with intervention teachers reassigned to classroom positions.

The district has not shared recent data about the classroom vacancies, or the intervention teachers who are acting as long-term substitute teachers in vacant classroom positions. However, anecdotally, this remains a problem for several schools in the district. And, there is an overlap in buildings where students are most in need of additional academic intervention and where the vacancies persist.

Hunter said that the district hopes that by having a smaller number of positions, the district will be able to fill all of the openings before the school year begins. The funding for the new positions includes a requirement that it “supplement not supplant” existing funding. Because of this requirement, the staff in the new positions will not be able to be used as substitutes within school buildings. The pandemic funding did not include in the “supplement not supplant” requirement.