Minnesota’s school integration program scrutinized


Since a 2005 State legislative auditor’s report that called for more clarity on the State’s Integration Revenue Program, some, including many members of the Minnesota Legislature, are asking whether State funding to integrate schools, which is set to expire in 2013, should be expanded, repurposed or eliminated.

In its final report released in February, the legislature’s 12-member Integration Revenue Replacement Task Force recommendations include the creation of an Achievement and Integration for Minnesota program, and examining if a Metropolitan Integration School District is needed to serve all metro-area districts that receive integration funds.

The task force also recommended that the existing Integration Revenue Program stay at the current level, and that the law define percentages for how funds are spent: at least 80 percent on students and 20 percent on professional development and administration, with administrative costs not to exceed 10 percent.

The task force recommendations were almost identical to those that came late last year from the Minnesota School Integration Council (MSIC) report on State integration funding. MSIC recommended that the components of the current Minnesota Desegregation Rule prohibiting “intentional segregation” remain, and that the State establish an Educational Equity Through Integration program that would require all districts to participate in the program.

Legislators will make the final decision on which of the recommendations will be implemented.

Robbinsdale School Board Member Helen Bassett, one of four Blacks on the Integration Task Force, told nearly 40 persons at a March 29 noontime community forum sponsored by AchieveMpls in downtown Minneapolis that most task force members support “repurposing” integration funds to better address the state’s achievement gap between White and non-White students.

Task force members also considered the overarching question of whether integrating schools “warrants special assistance” from the State, Bassett said. There was “a range of philosophical differences” among the group.

“I voted against the final report,” wrote co-chair Peter Swanson, a Golden Valley attorney, in one of two “minority reports” included in the February 15 final report. “I believe there are too many details left open to interpretation that could ultimately undermine the great work of the task force.”

“Little is likely to change as a result of the task force’s recommendations,” commented Center of the American Experiment Fellow Katherine Kersten. “Many task force members had a different priority — their sense of urgency centered on putting our state’s students in racially balanced settings. This is a good thing,” she noted, but she and others felt there should be more focus on improving academic achievement.

Bassett later told the MSR that she was proud of the task force’s work. She admitted, however, that she “was not at all certain we would be able to come together with recommendations.”

Reportedly, were integration funding to be cut or eliminated, the Twin Cities would be hardest hit. Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) currently receives almost $17 million dollars from the state for integration programs, notes Diversity and Equity Director James Burroughs II, who also spoke at the forum.

Creating school diversity throughout the district “is a work in progress,” admitted Burroughs. “When you take students from their neighborhood and take them across the city, it is not just a new classroom now, but a whole new environment, a whole different culture, a whole different set of everything. Your bus ride may be an hour, while someone else’s bus ride might be five minutes.”

An MSIC task force member, Burroughs believes that new terminology is needed for defining what integration means. “You can have a school that is 100 percent White, but that school is not racially identifiable according to the rules. However, you have schools that are made up of students of color, but that is racially identifiable.

“It is not just a Black or White issue — diversity and integration now include Somali students, Hmong students, Latino students and Black students,” he said.

“In order to integrate or add diversity, or to close the achievement gap that is huge in Minnesota,” said Burroughs, “we have to have academic strategies” collectively devised by everyone, including community members, business leaders and others.

(Photos by Charles Hallman)