Under legislation passed last year, by 2014 the Minnesota Legislature must either reallocate about $108 million in school integration aid or end the program.
Reallocation is the way to go. In our increasingly diverse region and world, it's essential for students to interact with peers from different ethnic and racial backgrounds. This is no time to turn away from efforts to foster intercultural understanding.
Recent recommendations from a legislative task force convened to study the issue strike a good balance between retaining school integration as a value and holding the programs more accountable for results -- including student achievement.
The bipartisan, 12-member task force included six members chosen by the state commissioner of education and six picked by the Legislature. In a recent report, the task force called for using existing funding to support a program called Achievement & Integration for Minnesota (AIM).
According to the report, AIM would maintain a commitment to addressing segregation and support programs to address learning disparities. Among other things, AIM funds would be used for programs including full-day kindergarten for low-income families and a college prep effort called Advancement Via Individual Determination.
Two members of the group opposed the recommendations (including Star Tribune contributor Katherine Kersten), arguing that funding over the years hasn't produced the intended results. But the task force also suggested ways to address those concerns by ensuring accountability and better oversight.
The Department of Education would define limited uses of AIM revenue, and school districts would have to submit plans with measurable goals to receive the funds. The department would monitor and evaluate the programs -- and withhold funding if districts do not make adequate progress.
Task force members stopped short of approving the idea of consolidating metro-area integration districts, but recommended that the Legislature examine the idea. Lawmakers should consider whether it would be more efficient to bring several efforts together under one administrative umbrella.
The task force also made worthwhile financial suggestions. Currently, Minneapolis receives $480 per pupil in integration money, while St. Paul gets $445 and $206 goes to Duluth. Other districts, some with high numbers of students of color, get far less, ranging from $92 to $129 per pupil.
To address those differences, the task force also outlined some important fiscal principles, including leveling disparities between demographically similar districts and capping state spending on the program at its current level.
They also suggest requiring that at least 80 percent of the revenue is spent directly on students. The other 20 percent may be used for professional administration and training.
The minority report from task force members who oppose the recommendations is due today. And the full and minority reports are scheduled to be presented to the Legislature on Wednesday.
Those results will give lawmakers a good start on combining an important state commitment to integration with more accountability to make sure aid dollars are well-spent.
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