Minnesota Court of Appeals Dismisses Case Seeking Far-Reaching Busing Order

In November 2015, a Minneapolis lawyer named Dan Shulman filed a purported class action lawsuit on behalf of all children in the Minneapolis and St. Paul public schools. The lawsuit alleged that children in those school districts were being deprived of their right to an adequate education under Article XIII, Section 1, of the Minnesota Constitution. Defendants included the State of Minnesota and many others.

The complaint alleged that the Minneapolis and St. Paul public schools are segregated, that such segregation is the cause of inadequate education experienced by all students in those school districts, and the remedy is a wide-ranging “desegregation” order that would cover not just Minneapolis and St. Paul, but the Twin Cities metropolitan area.

Yesterday, a panel of the Minnesota Court of Appeals ordered the lawsuit dismissed. The court held that the complaint does not present a justiciable controversy, i.e., one that can be resolved by the courts. The Court of Appeals said that the Minnesota Constitution does not refer to a right to an “adequate” education, and that determination of what constitutes adequate education is a “political question.” In this context, “political” means that under the separation of powers among the branches of government, the issue must be decided by the legislature:

[D]eciding whether appellants failed to provide an adequate education would require us first to determine the applicable standard, which is “an initial policy determination of a kind clearly for nonjudicial discretion.” … Such a determination rests in educational policy and is entrusted to the legislature, and not the judicial branch.

Shulman says he will appeal to the Minnesota Supreme Court, but I think the Court of Appeals decision is clearly correct. A few additional comments are in order:

1) What plaintiffs sought was a return to the forced busing regime of the 1970s. That policy was a disaster, and virtually no one regrets that the federal courts eventually abandoned it. Almost everyone agrees that children should attend schools near where they live, not be bused to distant schools to satisfy bureaucratic race-counters. The lawyers for the plaintiffs in this case are, to put it politely, old school.

2) I agree that many students in the Minneapolis and St. Paul public schools are not getting an adequate education. There are many reasons for this, beginning with the students. I am old enough to remember a time when, if a student failed in school, it was presumed to be his fault, not the responsibility of teachers, the local school board, or the governor of his state.

That said, bad educational policy clearly contributes to the poor quality of many urban public schools in Minnesota. The most obvious example is the racial quota imposed on disciplinary suspensions, which has resulted in chaos in classrooms and, on multiple occasions, teachers being viciously assaulted by students. Who could possibly learn in such an environment? The Center’s Kathy Kersten has written eloquently on this subject.

What is the path to better educational opportunities for Minnesota’s students? Not busing to achieve meaningless race quotas, but rather, a return to the basics, starting with maintenance of order in the classroom.