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DFLers press revamp of school integration plan

House File 247’s principal author is Carlos Mariani. Its Senate companion, 711, was introduced by Patricia Torres Ray.

You might know that one of the most hotly anticipated education bills of the current session is the so-called Achievement and Integration for Minnesota legislation, the long-awaited overhaul of the state’s integration revenue program.

If you know that much, you probably also know that the old program was widely regarded as flawed by members of both parties, who until two years ago resisted taking it up because that was about all they agreed on.

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DFLers acknowledged that an outdated funding formula directed a disproportionate share of the money to Minneapolis, St. Paul and Duluth, and that the law did a poor job of ensuring that the grants were actually used for desegregation programming. Amongst themselves, they talked reform.

Republicans? They agreed that the revenue stream was a mess, but they talked pretty cheerfully of ending the problem by killing both the state policy formally endorsing integration as a goal and the funds to pay for associated programs.

DFLers thus resisted asking for an overhaul. And then two years ago, the GOP-controlled Legislature wrote the program out of existence. As a part of a shutdown-ending compromise whose clever underpinnings are still revealing themselves, Gov. Mark “Machiavelli” Dayton brokered a two-year extension, during which time a task force would consider the issue.

Task force produces roadmap

mariani portrait
Rep. Carlos Mariani

And if you know all of this, you also know that the bipartisan task force dug in, took testimony and — surprising everyone, most especially the GOPers who agreed to Dayton’s bargain — produced a pretty thoughtful roadmap for a revamped state integration plan.

There’s more, of course, but by now you’re thinking, “Tell me something I don’t know already!” OK, then. Here are two things you may not have considered:

House File 247’s principal author is Carlos Mariani. Its Senate companion, 711, was introduced by Patricia Torres Ray. DFLers both, they represent St. Paul and Minneapolis, respectively. Which makes them mighty brave elected officials as their school districts stand to lose several million dollars a year under the reform.

(Why can’t we tell you exactly how much? Because 247 and 711 are zipping through the Capitol with ellipses where some pertinent dollar figures will eventually have to go.)

And while no one likes losing so much as a nickel in the current school finance drought, their home districts aren’t kvetching about it. It’s been a (short) generation since integration was an urban issue per se, which their leaders have been shouting, seemingly into the wind mostly, for years.

Accountability built in

What else don’t you know about the proposed Achievement and Integration program? That passage this year might not be the end of it. In order to continuing receiving some of the money, districts are going to have to show results — or at least good faith efforts toward them.

torres ray portrait
Sen. Patricia Torres Ray

Some of this accountability — that districts receiving the funds are actively pursuing integrated schools — was anticipated by the DFLers of yore. More problematic are clauses that commit the districts to reducing racial disparities in achievement.

How did achievement get mashed up with integration, once lauded as a worthy goal unto itself? The aforementioned task force was persuaded in part by data showing that all kids, not just poor minorities, do best in integrated schools.

The pickle being that with a few outstanding exceptions, even Minnesota’s best-integrated schools are prone to big achievement gaps. And the tools that are working in those exceptional schools aren’t integration programs.

In the end, though, a dollar — particularly one that now promises to follow the state’s most challenged students — is a dollar. And without more of them that gap will only resist closing. Don’t be surprised, then, if this particular bit of circular logic doesn’t get much scrutiny at the Capitol.