Minnesota Mulling Rule Changes on School Integration


The Minnesota Department of Education is currently considered a rewrite of state laws concerning school integration despite criticism that such a move would be a step backward.

The department is considering changes to a program in the state meant to end racial segregation in schools by requiring charter schools that enroll a high percentage of students of color to create integration plans. In addition, school districts would be allowed to use state integration money to help close the achievement gap between white and minority students instead of using it to move students in an effort to gain racial balance.

The criteria used to determine district eligibility for integration money would see changes, meaning some districts could be subject to a large change in the amount of aid they receive.

The first two days of testimony concerning these changes was held by Administrative Law Judge Ann O’Reilly last Wednesday. With over 150 people in attendance, many criticized the plan, writes Christopher Magan for Pioneer Press.

The new rules came about after state lawmakers voted in 2013 to overhaul the integration of schools in the state to offer equal access to education to all students. However, Rep. Carlos Mariani said the proposal was not what he thought it would be.

“The effort has shifted significantly to closing the achievement gap, with only lip service on meaningful integration efforts,” said Yusef Mgeni, with the St. Paul chapter of the NAACP.

State integration money has historically been used to create magnet schools and similar programs that promote integration in schools with large minority student populations.  While those efforts have shown some success, critics say it is not enough.

Myron Orfield, a University of Minnesota law professor and vocal advocate of improving school integration efforts, calls the new rules unconstitutional and unreasonable.  He went on to say that their incorporation will only put a hindrance on desegregation efforts.

“Segregation hurts children,” Orfield said, noting that students who attend segregated schools often do worse academically. “Minnesota is doubling down on a chilling standard that we have no compelling interest in racial integration.”

Orfield had been working in cooperation with a group to put a stop to the new rules.  However, the challenge was dropped after receiving word that the judge’s decision was advisory and not legally binding.  A class-action lawsuit was filed against the state in November by a group of parents and community leaders who argued that not enough was being done to desegregate schools in Minnesota.

According to the new rules, schools with a “protected student” population that is more than 20% of the total student body must create an achievement and integration plan to be submitted to the state.  Within that plan, schools must outline how they plan to improve the academic growth of these students, including black, Asian, Hispanic, and American Indian subgroups.

The plans must also include how the school plans to offer help to students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunches, an indicator of poverty.

Written comments on the changes will be accepted until January 27.  At that time, a ruling will be issued by O’Reilly that could include recommended changes to the rules.

The changes are not expected to go into effect until Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius and Governor Mark Dayton approve of them.