Minneapolis gets 1 of 8 Promise Zones to fight opportunity gap

Education Secretary Arne Duncan visited Minneapolis on Tuesday to announce the designation of the north side as a Promise Zone, giving the neighborhood competitive priority for education and economic development grants

"This is not a gift, this is an investment," Duncan said. "What really matters is not our dollars -- it's about leadership, it's about courage."

The goal of the Promise Zone designation is to target the opportunity gap as a step toward closing the education achievement gap.

The Northside Achievement Zone and north Minneapolis were among 40 communities that applied for a Promise Zone last year. The city's application was met with resistance from some members of the city council, who were concerned with adding more red tape.

Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced new Promise Zone designations in the following communities:

Camden, New Jersey
Hartford, Connecticut
Indianapolis, Indiana
Minneapolis, Minnesota
Sacramento, California
St. Louis, Missouri
Pine Ridge Indian Reservation of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, South Dakota
South Carolina Low Country

"A ZIP code should never limit the opportunities and hopes parents have for their children," Castro said. "Helping these communities build stronger neighborhoods will help unlock those doors that have been closed for far too long."

What it means for Minneapolis

The Northside Achievement Zone will go to the top of the list now for grant consideration as they look to expand their outreach to vulnerable families. Ultimately, this is about helping young kids by helping their families, beginning with early education.

"We are absolutely convinced that when have these kind or resources, supports and opportunity over the long term, our children -- regardless of what their family has or doesn't have or regardless of whether they were born with a silver spoon in their mouth -- our children can be extraordinarily successful," Duncan said.

That's why Secretary Duncan says universal preschool is a part of the formula. At Richardson Elementary School in North St. Paul, there is a waiting list. Duncan says Minnesota, with its budget surplus, is at a rare crossroads to give every child pre-K access.

"There is nothing political about this, nothing Republican or Democrat," Duncan said. "This is the ultimate triumph in common sense, and should be the ultimate bipartisan effort."

But in Minnesota, it is political.

The governor has proposed a $343 million plan that would send roughly 47,000 children to preschool. House Republicans are taking a more targeted approach by increasing the amount scholarships for children from needy families. But the governor once again threatened not to sign any bill that doesn't come close to his goal.

"This is my number one priority," Gov. Dayton said. "I've said that from the beginning and I'm going to count every dollar that they are putting back into tax relief with every dollar investing in early childhood education and it better be more in education than tax giveaways."

Minnesota's legislative session ends less than 4 weeks.