School integration is becoming a white hot hill to die on. Again.
The Minnesota legislature has moved to dispense with aid intended to integrate schools, which has central cities – the largest recipients of integration aid – worried about even larger holes in their budgets.
I agree with defenders of public education that say high poverty school districts can hardly afford any more cuts, shifts, or fancy accounting from the State. The needs of urban core districts are legendary and continuous. Real lives of real children create high stakes in the games we adults play.
However, integration aid is intended to be a purpose driven supplement to core funding. We all do better when we commit ourselves to calling things what they are and using them for their intended purposes.
The unfortunate truth is that districts have used the money more for “aid” than for the “integration” part. Desperation and politics too often inspire creative uses of supplemental revenue.
This has been an widely acknowledged problem for years which makes the response from urban Democrats is interesting.
For instance, Sen. Scott Dibble recently said “let’s talk about how segregated many of our communities still are…Minneapolis over the last 40 years has been intensely engaged in desegregation and integration.”
It’s an odd comment because the Senator and his colleagues have not attended district conversations on race, offered law that ensures districts use the money to actually integrate schools, or shown support when real life integration issues inflamed the community.
While on the Minneapolis School Board the issue of school integration was inescapable. It all came into sharp focus when our board proposed changes to school boundaries that were intended to create more balanced district.
To say all hell broke loose would be an understatement.
Email and phone calls started. People wanted to know what on Earth we were doing. Some expressed rational concern, and for others it was self-righteous anger.
At some of our schools with the most aggressive parent communities the principals stepped in to provide leadership. They helped their constituents make sense of the process. It helped them take down the rhetoric a notch even if they still were sour on the plan.
Not all schools had such leaders. In at least one school the building leader encouraged parents to “fight back.” The letters, email, and phone calls from that building were hostile, insulting, full of threats and illiberal comments about families of color.
The context and subtext were very clearly anti-integration.
So complete was their opposition to the district’s plan to open the school to children of color from other neighborhoods that they put it on an enlarged poster which they displayed proudly in the school lobby.
In the most objectionable portion of it they expressed a preference for Latino children over “any other” kids that would be sent for “purposes of diversity.”
When they were challenged on the utter stupidity of their public statement their privilege system went into high gear.
Sadly, in a flagrant act of pandering some state senators and representatives penned a letter in support of the school, its principal, and its privileged parents.
Sen. Dibble was the chief author of the letter, and he appeared at a rally to show further support – against a plan to integrate one of Minneapolis’ whitest schools.
It is these little hypocrisies that make integration aid a target for districts that want more money to misuse themselves. They can point to the fact that even the people that politically and socially should believe in the cause are cynical about it. City leaders, school leaders, union leaders, and parents of privilege with all the appropriate left-of-center bumper stickers do not believe in integration.
They believe in money. They see the 70% students of color as cash cows that create jobs and support a system of exclusionary private/public schools for some, and failing schools for others. These “leaders” go silent when their own constituents aggressively pursue systems of power to create advantage, division, and other concepts counter to the common good.
So, their battle is not about the principals or benefits of integration, or the establishment of a fair society, of the perpetuation of a participatory democracy, or the correction of the colossal injustices that have supported an unequal society.
For them it’s all about the Benjamins.
Good luck on selling that premise as a sustainable, moral allotment in public education – especially in a time of scarcity.