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School Choice in Action: Minneapolis & St. Paul Families Leave Neighborhood Schools

Despite education spending increases year after year, Minnesota remains home to one of the largest academic achievement gaps in the country. Not all students are getting the education they need at their neighborhood public schools, and families are responding by sending their children elsewhere.

According to the Star Tribune’s three-part series called “Students in Flight,” a third of students in Minneapolis and St. Paul are leaving to attend public schools in other districts or charter schools. Of the students leaving Minneapolis, around 70 percent are headed to charter schools. And “most of the defections in Minneapolis are occurring among black families,” the Strib reports.

Black student flight accounts for more than half of all kids leaving the [Minneapolis] district, out of proportion with the 43 percent of the school age population they represent.

In St. Paul, the flight is more white, Hispanic and Asian.

It’s no surprise many students leaving these districts are minorities. Educational freedom gives minority students the opportunity to break free from a school system that has a history of failing them.

Families cite a variety of reasons for leaving the city’s school system, ranging from safety concerns to a belief that academics elsewhere are better than in Minneapolis, which has struggled for years to close the more than 50-percentage-point gap between white and black student achievement.

Minneapolis schools officials say they’re confident they can reverse the trend and boost academic achievement so high that families will once again choose the city’s schools.

The district is planning to win students back with “new literacy programs…beginning this fall” and a “focus on ‘social-emotional learning’ to address the student needs angle,” as reported by the Star Tribune.

But this isn’t the first time Minneapolis school leaders have vowed to improve academic performance. And the district’s consistently low test scores and lack of academic growth over the years do not support its lofty pledges.

A comparison of 2016 and 2017 state test results showed only 24% of students who self-identified as black made enough growth in math to be considered “on track” for success. In reading, only 30% made the expected academic growth. St. Paul’s 2017 growth results were similar: Only 26% of black students who took the math test and 33% of black students who took the reading test showed they were “gaining and maintaining the reading and math skills necessary to be academically successful.”

Lagging academics aren’t the only thing that have parents concerned. Discipline and safety are other reasons families are leaving the Minneapolis school district, according to the Star Tribune. Unruly behavior and lack of discipline also plague St. Paul schools where teacher Aaron Benner was assaulted several times by students while at work. When he went to his principal and the district for help, he was told that “the offending students would not be disciplined because they were black” (Benner, too, is African-American).

The pressures school choice is putting on Minnesota public schools is not a bad thing. It creates a competitive environment that pushes low-performing districts to improve so they keep and attract students who have the chance to go elsewhere. Educational freedom means families—not zip codes—choose where their children attend school.

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