Monday, October 17, 2011

How is Integration Revenue Used in Minnesota?

A while back, the St. Cloud School District announced the replacement of its Director of Equity Services.   Since that announcement, I've noticed a bunch of online comments attacking the integration revenue program that are pretty far off the mark.  I think that the misunderstanding derives partly from the lack of clarity in the state law itself.   The legislative auditor issued a report on integration revenue and urged the legislature and Department of Education to clarify the intended uses of integration revenue, because different school districts are using the money in very different ways. So, I'm not blaming the folks who can't exactly figure out where the money is going.

In fact, some school districts are using integration revenue primarily to create opportunities for students from different racial and ethnic backgrounds to understand each other better.  In St. Cloud, we actually use a very small amount of integration revenue for this purpose -- the annual "respect retreat" being a specific example.    Other school districts are using integration revenue to strengthen educational results for disadvantaged students.   For example, some of the districts in the west metro area are funding the AVID (advancement through individual determination) program, which is a highly rigorous program that promotes better study habits and encourages participation in more demanding coursework.    Our district generally emphasizes use of integration revenue to fund improved educational programs and promote student achievement.   

The integration program is not a public relations program as one recent commenter contended.  Nor, in St. Cloud, is it primarily designed to promote inter-racial understanding, as the Times recently reported.  But before you get the idea that my purpose is to defend the state integration revenue program, let me begin, by saying that I think that the current integration revenue law has some major flaws. This year's legislature is requiring that the uses of integration revenue receive a comprehensive searching review.   And I support that review.   During the last legislative session  I wrote a letter to all of the leading legislators involved in education finance urging them to modify the integration revenue program to allow school districts to use that revenue more directly to impact learning.  I believe that by far the most effective way of "integrating" minority and disadvantaged students into the mainstream is to assure that they succeed academically.    If they succeed, then integration will follow almost automatically.  If they do not succeed, integration is a hollow objective leading to disappointment and failure. 

You can find out more about the current integration revenue program by jumping to the Minnesota Department of Education's Questions and Answer  sheet on that topic.   School districts receive integration revenue one of two ways:

 Some Districts, like Minneapolis and St. Paul get integration revenue because those districts were defendants in a lawsuit which alleged that the district had become racially segregated and that racial segregation was leading to unequal educational educational results.   Ultimately, that lawsuit led to a legislative appropriation for those districts which supported some school bussing and racial transferring, designed to promote more racially balanced schools.  Minneapolis and St. Paul receive significantly greater integration revenue appropriations, per student, than any other school district in Minnesota.  

 Other Districts, like St. Cloud, receive integration revenue because they have a significantly higher percentage of minority students that adjoining districts.   When that happens, integration revenue is provided to the district with a higher percentage of minority students at an elevated rate (but lower than Minneapolis and St. Paul), and integration revenue is provided to the adjoining districts (like Sauk Rapids, for example) at a lower rate.   But none of these districts are required to conduct an integration program in the sense that most people understand it.  Students are not bussed or transferred from one district to another.   (I believe that these bussing programs are ineffective, divisive, and counterproductive).   Each District submits a plan to the State of Minnesota explaining how it intends to use its money during a four year grant period.  In St. Cloud, the school board has sought to use integration revenue, to the maximum extent possible, to improve educational achievement.  At times, we have had to wrestle with the bureacracy at the State Department of Education to get them to approve those objectives, giving rise to my argument that the law needs to be clarified and improved.

The Department of Education's position on using integration revenue for improving student achievement is as follows:

Can integration revenue be used to fund programs focused on improving academic achievement for students or closing “achievement gaps” among groups of students?

The Desegregation Rule states that both intra-district and inter-district integration plans “must be educationally justifiable.” (Please see Minn. R. 3535.0160, Subp. 3 and Minn. R. 3535.0170, Subp. 6.) In addition, one of the stated purposes of the rule is to “recognize that the primary goal of public education is to enable all students to have opportunities to achieve academic success.” (Minn. R. 3535.0100) MDE strongly encourages districts to develop programs and activities under their plans that simultaneously advance both the goal of improving student academic achievement and the goal of increasing opportunities for integration as stated in Minnesota Statutes, section 124D.86.
Integration revenue can also be used to accelerate the pace at which non-English speaking students become fluent in English, and in St. Cloud, that is one of the ways that we are using integration revenue.   I believe that the sooner that immigrant children become fluent in English, the sooner they will become integrated into school and society, and the sooner they will grow educationally.

Often I read postings by commenters who believe that integration revenue is for minority students only, and that too is not true.  The Minnesota Department of Education explains:
The Desegregation Rule does not require the use of race or ethnicity as a test for anyone’s participation in an activity funded with integration revenue. This includes school choice programs, magnet schools, teacher scholarship programs, or any other initiative or planning process. Districts may choose to use race-neutral guidelines for students, families, or staff to participate in programming, such as eligibility for the Free and Reduced Priced Lunch program or residency within a defined geographical area.
Public schools are in the education business.    For this reason, we must use our precious education dollars whenever possible to promote the educational success of all of our students.  Next year, we will be preparing our new four year plan for the use of integration revenue.  At the same time, the integration revenue program will be the subject of careful scrutiny at the State level.   I believe that we would do well to change the name of the program and reconfigure its purpose to target the revenue towards providing stronger more effective programs to promote educational success for students who come to school with educational disadvantages.  As I've said in my last post, I'm convinced that the key to improving student success is more hard work, more reading, better study habits, and more time learning.

3 comments:

  1. So, what is happening to Integration Revenue as of spring 2013?

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  2. A committee has just been appointed to make recommendations. The House and Senate picked half of the committee. The Governor picked the other half of the committee. The committee appears to be deeply divided because of some partisan choices. I hope I am wrong.

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  3. If the education IRA and 529 plan I have for my son grows in value such that all education expenses are completely covered, what happens with the remainder? If there is a penalty, what is the rate?


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comments welcome