Vote yes on the 2008 Minneapolis School Referendum: The power to make the change we need


by Education Equity Organizing Collaborative • 10/28/08 • You can improve the Minneapolis Public Schools.

Let us state upfront, the legacy of education in the Minneapolis Public School system is rife with segregation, litigation and inequality for communities of color. Today, the Minneapolis Public School System (MPS) is the second most diverse in the state. African-American students alone comprise 39.6% of the Minneapolis Public School district’s student population. 52% of Special Education students are also African-American. And yet, as primary stakeholders, parents and other leaders in our communities – the American Indian community, the Somali and Latino communities – as well as others must set aside our past reasonable resentments against this system to move forward into the future. To bridge the chasm between our ideal of racial equity and the realization of making it happen will require all of our efforts to pass the 2008 Strong Schools Strong City referendum. If we fail to do so, the racial and economic disparities will dramatically worsen and make bridging the chasm much more difficult. It’s that simple.

Recently, the Education Equity Organizing Collaborative (EEOC) Referendum Partners comprised of MIGIZI Communications, Somali Action Alliance, Coalition of Black Churches/ African American Leadership Summit and ISAIAH requested an equity analysis of the school’s proposed referendum. The analysis was orchestrated by Jermaine Toney, policy analyst with The Organizing Apprenticeship Project. Toney researched our two simple questions: What would be the equity impact on our children, particularly kids of color and American Indian kids if the referendum was not approved and what would be the equity impact on our kids if the referendum was approved? First, what our analysis showed is that without successful passage of the referendum, racial and economic disparities will worsen for our kids, class size will double and we will lose more teachers of color. Second, without specific ongoing attention to the racial equity impact of policies and practices used to meet racial equity goals, the referendum and strategic plan will fail to anticipate unequal outcomes, and maintain or reinforce current disparities.

Voting yes on the referendum is essential – but clearly, it is not enough. While voting yes will help keep our schools from getting worse, what we want and need is for them to get better. The district has some good goals for achieving racial equity in our schools– but it is critical for us – the stakeholders, to be involved in the steps they take to realize those goals and to hold the district accountable for getting there. It is important to note that the school district cannot do this alone. The state of Minnesota also needs to stop disinvesting in our kids. The state legislature has shaped the backdrop for the referendum. Between 2003 and 2008 Minneapolis Schools faced a 6.8 percent decrease in per child revenue, including a staggering loss of $1,709 per child in state aid. This decline in public investment in schools has dramatically hindered Minneapolis Schools’ ability to provide much needed opportunities to strengthen racial and economic equity in education, whether intended or not.

Minneapolis voters who vote yes on the referendum need to be assured that we have a plan. We are building a process of accountability and change in the way the MPS engages the community. We plan to have 2 accountability sessions with MPS in 2009. The parents and leaders of communities of color need to ensure that there is true accountability of the referendum money and how it is spent on the goals and outcomes laid out in the MPS strategic plan.

Often over stated but no less true is the fact that the students in the Minneapolis Public School System belong to all of us. Minneapolis voters have an obligation to them and to the future of the city to bridge the enormous chasm in racial equity in our schools.The first step in doing so must be a yes vote on the 2008 Strong Schools Strong City Referendum on November 4th with stringent accountability to follow. The fate of the Strong Schools Strong City referendum depends on the engagement and yes vote of communities of color and American Indian community. We have the power to make the change we need.

Elaine Salinas, President, MIGIZI Communications (612) 721-6631 Ext. 205

Hashi Shafi, Executive Director, Somali Action Alliance 612 242-9991

Abdirahman Hassan, Community Organizer , Somali Action Alliance 612 384-6002

Jacqueline Belzer, ISAIAH Leader 612 703-4752

Julia Freeman Senior Racial Justice Organizer of Organizing Apprenticeship Project 612 236-8299

Beth Newkirk Executive Director of Organizing Apprenticeship Project 612 708-9007

Jermaine Toney (for the analysis) Lead Research Organizing Apprenticeship Project 612 746-4224