Opportunity for all people starts with education. So it’s good to see Mankato Area Public Schools attacking the achievement gap head-on.

The School Board examined the plan for eliminating Mankato’s achievement gap at its meeting Monday. It’s more appropriate to describe the disparity between students of color and white students in academic achievement as an opportunity gap. Students can take advantage of all life’s opportunities if they get a first-rate education that helps them be productive and engaged citizens.

The Mankato schools as well as those in Janesville-Waldorf-Pemberton, St. Peter and Cleveland districts received funding due to growing diversity in the Mankato district where 25 percent of students are not white. A state laws calls for adjoining districts to share in that integration funding.

The funding amounts to $350 for each student of color and $10 per pupil. That gives Mankato schools $900,000 for the initiative with 70 percent paid by the state and the remaining through a special property tax levy.

These kinds of programs can sometimes get lost in a report that sits on a shelf, but it appears the Mankato schools plan brings real resources to bear on programs that can be measured.

The plan calls for funding pre-school and camp scholarships, developing parent coaches and teacher mentors as programs that go directly toward helping the students. Another piece of the plan calls for encouraging students of color to consider teaching as a career through programs that introduce them to those careers as early as the eighth grade.

The Mankato schools hired a full-time staff person to lead the integration and achievement effort. The schools also added a teacher coach at each elementary school to help teachers implement cultural competency programs that are simply designed to help teachers learn the cultural background of their students and how that impacts learning.

Parent volunteers will help support other parents of elementary and pre-school children to introduce them to opportunities at their schools.

Mankato schools are off to a good start applying real resources to real programs that are aimed at the students and their families.

The achievement gap has been difficult to close for schools across the state. Test scores between students of color and white students can be 20 to 40 percent in some cases. That’s too high.

Schools that have those gaps need to be aggressive in their approach to closing them significantly. The state has provided funding. Everyone has skin in this game. An opportunity gap is bad for our economy, bad for our community and bad for our students.

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