Minn. Board To Consider Desegregation Plan

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Heavily white school districts near the Twin Cities would be required to attract minority students and insure that they soon achieve on a par with their new peers, under a proposal before the Minnesota state board of education this week.

The rules would require districts in the Minneapolis-St.Paul metropolitan area with enrollments that are less than 10 percent or more than 30 percent minority to adopt plans for bringing about voluntary desegregation.

Currently, 59 percent of Minneapolis students and 49 percent of St. Paul students are members of minority groups. Minority enrollments in suburban areas generally are considerably lower.

The proposal gives districts an incentive to receive low-income minority students by raising the amount of compensatory state aid allocated to each poor child in Minneapolis and St. Paul. These children, who currently are allocated an extra 65 percent in state aid, would have their state-aid allowances raised to twice the amount provided for other students.

Schools would be required, however, to develop plans to eliminate any performance gaps between minority and majority students. They would face reconstitution--a shake-up of their entire administration and faculty--if they failed after three years to equalize dropout and discipline rates, academic achievement, and enrollment in remedial, special-education, and honors classes.

To address the social factors contributing to student-performance gaps, the proposal calls for the Metropolitan Council, which represents municipalities in seven counties in the Twin Cities area, to develop a new plan for addressing economic discrimination and housing segregation.

"We wanted to build into the proposed rule language that deals not only with access, but outcomes,'' said Elaine J. Salinas, an education-program officer for the Urban Coalition, one of several advocacy groups that helped draft the proposed changes before the board.

"The thing that we really tried to battle,'' she said, "was this attitude that has been in public education for a long time, that because a child is low income or of color, we don't have to expect as much of them--that they are not capable of performing at a high level.''

Funding Questions

The board established a task force of education officials, community leaders, and advocacy-group representatives to develop the plan.

John Plocker, the president of the board, said last week that the resulting plan enjoys strong support on the board.

But even if the plan wins the board's approval, it still must gain the endorsement of the legislature, which last year gave itself the final vote on major rule changes proposed by the board.

Financial backing from the legislature was widely viewed last week as vital to the success of the plan.

"The rules themselves are not going to accomplish these changes,'' said Lyle A. Baker, an associate superintendent of the Minneapolis schools. "There has to be a legislative package of incentives to make them work.''

Members of the task force last week were pessimistic about their proposal's chances before the legislature, however, especially in light of the amount of money involved.

Anticipating legislative resistance, the task force struggled over the question of whether districts should lose all of their state aid for each student who transfers.

The plan calls for sending districts to receive an amount equal to half the transferring pupil's state-aid allotment. The cost of similar provisions has led to their deletion from previous open-enrollment bills, however.

Task-force members said their proposal, which also calls for Minneapolis and St. Paul to try to attract white students from the suburbs, has little chance of achieving metropolitan desegregation without substantial state expenditures on new magnet schools to lure students across district lines.

"I know of no place in the country where students voluntarily leave their own districts in any significant number without good reason,'' said Superintendent Lowell D. Larson of the Richfield district. "There has to be a very attractive program to induce that kind of movement.''

A Fair Burden?

Another provision of the task-force proposal would exempt schools established by sovereign Native American tribes, as well as schools on reservations. But districts far from the Twin Cities that have racially unbalanced schools would be required to devise desegregation plans.

Robert J. Wedl, an assistant commissioner of the state education department, last week said that the board is likely to change a provision of the plan that requires the districts involved to accept transferring students regardless of space considerations.

Superintendent Douglas W. Otto of the Anoka-Hennepin school system said his district, where 6 percent of the 38,000 students are members of minority groups, already is growing at a rate of 1,000 students a year and can barely cope with current space demands.

Mr. Wedl also predicted that the task force's proposal would be changed so that school reconstitutions would be carried out by districts, rather than the state.

Even so, the plan's student-achievement requirements and reconstitution provisions still are likely to face sharp criticism from suburban educators. "Once again, we are assigning to education the task of righting a situation whose roots are in all kinds of other forms of discrimination,'' Mr. Larson said.

Vol. 13, Issue 19

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