Brown Power Base Project fights to desegregate schools

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“Brown Power!” shouted a small, diverse group of community members. An enthusiastic Cheryl Morgan-Spencer worked quickly to rally the crowd and get them interested in the topic at hand. “Change is good,” she said with a confident smile.

Morgan-Spencer is an integral member of the Brown Power Base Project (BPBP), a group whose goal is to desegregate schools in Minnesota. As a child of the Civil Rights movement, Morgan-Spencer finds this a very emotional issue. “We’ve watched as the clock has ticked back on civil rights and education of African-American children,” she says, her voice hushed with seriousness.

Myron Orfield, executive director of the Institute on Race and Poverty, spoke at the February 26 community roundtable held by BPBP. “Racial segregation means social segregation,” he said, noting that school boundaries and the density of low-income housing take away the chance of a good education for many blacks and Latinos. Orfield explained that many urban schools have become poorer in recent years and the level of diversity has dropped.

BPBP began a year ago in January with the goal of desegregating Minnesota’s schools. Many community groups have joined BPBP and had representatives at the roundtable. In addition to Orfield, Roxana Rodriguez, lead research associate from Hispanic Advocacy and Community Empowerment through Research (HACER); Jesus Torres lead organizer of non-profit Centro Campesino; and Mona Langston policy director for the Housing Preservation Project, spoke and answered questions at the event.

Currently, the state of Minnesota has voluntary integration and no power to mandate integration, said Morgan-Spencer. BPBP claims that Minnesota’s open enrollment and integration funding does nothing to desegregate schools and they said they are sending a plan to the state legislature to change that. BPBP would not reveal its exact plan during the meeting, to the dismay of the group at the meeting, but outlined some proposals. Morgan-Spencer assured the group these goals would be unveiled more fully after the state considers them.

Orfield said this plan is on its way to the state legislature with three general proposals—the most important being that integration funds need to actually support integration, not just fill budget gaps in other areas. The Brown Power Base Project would also like fairer and more efficient school district boundaries. Finally, the group seeks better-integrated housing.

Mona Langston, architect and policy director for the Housing Preservation Project, described the Twin Cities’ housing problems. She said there is an over-concentration of low-income housing in racially isolated areas, leaving children to languish in sub-par schools. Langston is pushing for housing choice, in which parents could be connected to affordable housing—possibly through Section 8 funding—when they choose a school. She said that families would not have to move, but they would have the option of moving closer to the school they choose.

A 2005 Legislative Auditor’s report said 80 school districts in Minnesota received $79 million in integration funds during 2005. Judy Randall, project manager for the Office of the Legislative Auditor, says that 70 percent of this integration funding comes from the state and the remaining 30 percent is levied for by school districts. The 2005 Legislative Auditor report said the integration program needs more focus and oversight. Specifically, the Legislative Auditor report said:
• The purpose of the Integration Revenue program is not clear.
• School districts vary widely in how they use integration revenue. While many of their expenditures are reasonable, some are questionable.
• Neither the state nor school districts have adequately assessed the results of the Integration Revenue program.
• Over the last five years, racial concentration has increased in some of the school districts that participate in the Integration Revenue program.
• The Minnesota Department of Education has not provided consistent or required oversight of the program, although it has made some improvements in the past year [2005].
• The Integration Revenue funding formula has some unintended and potentially negative consequences.

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