Change is coming for Minnesota’s school integration efforts. As a result of state legislation, funding that once went solely to racial desegregation efforts can now be used for both integration and improving academic achievement. The Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) is developing new rules to align with the legislative change.
Both goals are worthwhile. Too many Minnesota schools have significant learning disparities between white students and students of color, and it’s a priority to find effective ways to close those gaps. It also remains essential for students of a various races to interact with one another in school, especially in an increasingly diverse society and global economy.
Districts will have more flexibility in how they use dollars from the Achievement and Integration for Minnesota program, and they should develop creative ways to reduce racial segregation and improve learning. As the MDE develops the rules and reviews plans, officials should hold districts accountable in both areas.
Under the new state regulations, districts will be required to submit plans to the state if their students-of-color percentage equals or exceeds 20 percent or if a school site within the district has 20 percent or more kids of color than other schools within the district that serve the same grades.
Some integration advocates understandably worry that those guidelines fail to require any action from schools with largely white populations. There is additional concern that the new rules allow districts to come up with plans and set their own goals — even if they rely on some of the same practices that have failed in the past.
For their part, MDE officials say the department must write rules that reflect the legislative change. Under the current program, if a district is considered racially isolated, it’s required to collaborate with adjacent districts to help achieve a more diverse mix of students. That requirement falls by the wayside with the new rules.
The other big change is that charter schools will be required to submit plans. That will be challenging for some charters that include primarily students of one racial or cultural background. However, it should also present an opportunity for them to work with other schools on joint programs.
Current integration-focused collaborations also are undergoing change. For example, the West Metro Education Program and the East Metro Integration District, two special integration districts that serve the Twin Cities area, have come under scrutiny as inner-ring suburbs grow increasingly diverse and the school districts they serve rely less on them to achieve racial balance.
The MDE reports that about $65 million in state dollars will be allocated for the program in the first year of the biennium and nearly $69 million in 2017. State education officials should develop administrative rules that make sure those funds are used effectively.