An administrative law judge Monday tore down the Minnesota Department of Education’s proposed rule to desegregate schools, including a hot-button requirement that would put charter schools under the state’s integration plans for the first time.
Judge Ann C. O’Reilly rejected the Education Department’s proposed rule, saying it was vague and that the department had failed to establish a need for it and was overstepping its bounds. Her report added that “the tail does not wag the dog when it comes to lawmaking.”
Now department officials must consider whether to make changes to the rule and resubmit it, ask the judge to reconsider or withdraw it completely. Officials aren’t sure yet what the ruling means for charters, said Assistant Commissioner Rose Hermodson.
“While the department believed the proposed rule was reasonable and consistent with the new law, we respect Judge O’Reilly’s decision,” Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius said.
The judge’s report drew praise from charter advocates and those supporting charter desegregation alike. Representatives from both sides criticized the proposed rule’s ambiguity.
“Lots of people complained bitterly that there were major issues with the way this rule had been placed,” said Malik Bush, co-director of the Center for School Change. He said it’s unusual that a rule goes through that many levels and gets rejected.
But it doesn’t mean that the rule says charters can never be integrated, said Myron Orfield, a University of Minnesota law professor and director of the Institute on Metropolitan Opportunity who has advocated for the desegregation of charter schools.
“They basically said if they were going to include charters, they had to create a good reason why,” Orfield said.
The Education Department’s original proposed rule, released in October, required that charter schools would have to submit achievement and integration plans if they had significant percentages of students of color.
Further, it proposed that charter schools use state integration money to close the achievement gap, and that the department change the criteria under which districts are eligible to receive integration funding.
Charter elementary schools in the Twin Cities are segregated at a higher rate of racial concentration than traditional public elementary schools, a Star Tribune analysis has found. More than three-quarters of elementary students in charters attend schools that have either white or nonwhite enrollments of 80 percent or higher.
When the rule was proposed, charter advocates cried foul and said that demanding integration would dismantle a fundamental tenet of charters: school choice. Others said it was time that charters were required to integrate depending on concentrations of students of color.
As the Department of Education determines its next steps, it will need to carefully read the parts pertaining to charter schools, Hermodson said.
“Charter schools have 10 percent of our minority student population,” she said. “That’s a significant number of kids that we would be ignoring if we didn’t include them.”