Twin Cities metro-area school districts are preparing to offer a major increase in summer programming to help students recover academic and social time they lost because of the coronavirus pandemic.

In the St. Paul and Minneapolis districts this summer, free programs will be offered to anyone who’s interested, rather than focusing as usual on students who need that time the most.

That’s not the case in suburban districts that shared their plans, although most are making more students eligible for free summer instruction or adding weeks to their schedules.

After more than a year of distance learning, sudden school closures and hybrid schedules, the need for remediation figures to be great, especially in math. Still, school officials wonder whether families will be interested and whether they’ll have enough teachers to work in their expanded summer programs.

“Teachers are tired from a year like no other and, traditionally, many students and families have not been excited about ‘summer school.’ We hope this year will be different due to the awareness of the impact of the pandemic on learning,” said Renae Ouillette, executive director of student services for Lakeville Area Schools.

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A series of congressional appropriations are paying for much of the summer programming.

There’s $57.5 million in federal funding from the December relief bill, which Minnesota schools can spend over the next three summers.

In addition, the American Rescue Plan, which President Joe Biden signed last month, includes $1.32 billion for Minnesota schools alone, to be spent over the next 3½ years. At least 90 percent of that must go directly to school districts, with high-poverty districts seeing a greater share, while the rest can be used for state education priorities and administration.

At least 20 percent of the new federal funds must be spent on evidence-based interventions that address learning loss, which for many will include new or expanded summer programming.

House debate

The Minnesota House recently passed a $104.5 million bill based on Gov. Tim Walz’s education plan, which would be partly funded by the federal relief act. It would cover about $55 million in education and related services over the summer and the end of this school year, including summer preschool, tutoring, field trips, neighborhood programs and more. A companion bill hasn’t yet had a hearing in the Senate, where Republicans hold the majority.

Debate in the House fell along party and geographic lines, with Republicans suggesting the state simply hand out summer school money on a per-student basis and let each school district decide how to spend it.

For most of the summer learning funds, the Democratic-Farmer-Labor bill calls for “equitable distribution” between the metro area and Greater Minnesota but also the prioritization of “historically underserved students.” House Republicans doubt that suburban and rural schools will get their share.

Republicans tried to replace Walz’s plan with their own $75 million summer school proposal. Under their plan, wealthier schools would have received extra money to counter the poverty-based formulas used to award much of the federal recovery funds.

Republicans also wanted to limit the summer programming to in-person instruction, while Walz’s plan allows for virtual programming.

“Our bill and this amendment funds kids,” said House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown. “It gets kids into a classroom, in front of a teacher and it gets them learning. And it funds them equitably, across the state.”

“If we’re trying to get our kids caught up after a year of distance learning, they need to be in the classroom,” Rep. Jon Koznick, R-Lakeville, said.

Bill sponsor Rep. Jim Davnie, DFL-Minneapolis, scoffed at Daudt’s definition of equity.

“What’s equitable is to recognize … that some schools, some communities have been harder hit by the pandemic,” he said.

And, unless the Legislature puts it in law, Davnie said, targeted services, such as math and reading corps and summer tuition assistance for new college students, aren’t going to be funded.