School integration reform advances despite opposition

Published 10:11 am Thursday, January 7, 2016

By Christopher Magan

St. Paul Pioneer Press

The Minnesota Department of Education is moving forward with a rewrite of state rules for integrating schools despite criticism that the changes are a step backward.

Email newsletter signup

Administrative Law Judge Ann O’Reilly began the first of two days of testimony about the proposed changes Wednesday. More than 150 people filled a conference room at the state Department of Education offices in Falcon Heights to learn about the changes, and some offered testimony.

The new rules come after state lawmakers voted in 2013 to overhaul Minnesota’s efforts to integrate schools and ensure all students have equitable access to education.

State education officials say the changes bring increased focus to improving minority student academic performance and closing the achievement gap. There is less emphasis on bringing racial balance to schools deemed “racially isolated” because they enroll inordinately large numbers of minority students.

For years, districts used state integration money to create magnet schools and other programs to encouraged integration at schools with large populations of minority students. Those efforts have been successful at integrating some schools, but critics say they never went far enough.