New lawsuit aims to bring race-based busing back to Minnesota

The era of race-based busing of Minneapolis schoolchildren—1974 to 1995—marks one of the greatest debacles in the city’s history. Busing tore apart neighborhoods and cost taxpayers millions of dollars.

Black academic achievement—far from rising, as promised—actually declined during the last five years of the busing regime. By 1995, Sharon Sayles Belton, the city’s black mayor, was demanding an end to the practice and a return to neighborhood schools.

Now a new lawsuit aims to bring race-based busing back to Minnesota. It would do so on a scale that would dwarf what we saw in Minneapolis. The class-action suit, filed last November in state court, is likely seeking a metro-wide “integration” plan and the redrawing of school boundaries across the seven-county area.

On July 8, a Hennepin County judge ruled that the case can proceed. It’s back to the future time, folks.

The suit, filed by local attorney Dan Shulman , claims that the State of Minnesota and local school districts have drawn school district boundaries in a way that “segregates” poor and minority students, thereby depriving them of an “adequate and equitable” education under the Minnesota Constitution.

That’s balderdash, of course.

Illegal segregation, by definition, requires intentional government discrimination against black students. The Twin Cities metro area has an extraordinary array of educational choices—including neighborhood schools that are open to all community residents, suburban open enrollment, and dozens of charter schools.

Revealingly, Shulman and the plaintiffs claim that popular charter schools like Harvest Prep School—a middle school run by a black electrical engineer and designed to meet the special academic needs of low-income black students —are impermissibly “segregated,” despite the fact that students’ parents choose to enroll them there.

Shulman and his ally Myron Orfield, a University of Minnesota law professor who seems to see racial discrimination everywhere, claim that racially balanced schools are the key to raising minority children’s academic performance. Yet reform efforts that view children through the lens of skin color—mislabeled “integration”— have a woeful track record.

From the 1970s to 1995 or so, for example, courts imposed race-based busing on school districts from Boston to Cleveland, from Kansas City to San Francisco. Black students’ reading and math scores languished, though states spent billions.
The story has been the same in Minnesota. Not one of our state’s race-based educational experiments—including costly “integration districts” and “The Choice Is Yours” program, which allows low-income Minneapolis students to choose suburban schools—has meaningfully and consistently raised minority students’ scores.

Nationally, only one state court has bought into the race-based “adequacy and equity” theory on which Shulman’s case is based. Connecticut’s high court did so in 1996, in Sheff v. O’Neill.

Sheff produced a costly and divisive educational nightmare. In response to a court order, the state legislature built a monumentally expensive series of magnet schools. Yet after 20 years, racial balance targets are far from being met, and minority students as a group still lag far behind whites in math and reading.

As the Connecticut Mirror noted several years ago, the Sheff ruling’s huge cost

has pushed state and local education budgets to the brink. Funding for magnets is based on a dizzying hodgepodge of financial arrangements that perplex educators, pit towns against one another and stir a chorus of protest….

‘The whole system is broken,’ says state Education Commissioner Mark McQuillen.

A mountain of evidence demonstrates that moving children around on the basis of skin color will not substantially improve their academic achievement. Effective educational reforms, by contrast, directly address poor and minority children’s pressing academic needs. Such reforms deliver an intense focus on fundamentals; targeted interventions; a school climate that emphasizes order, discipline and high expectations, and accountability and incentives for success.

Back in 2012, I predicted Shulman’s lawsuit in a report entitled Our Immense Achievement Gap: Embracing Proven Remedies While Avoiding a Race-Based Recipe for Disaster. I spelled out the dangers such lawsuits pose to families, children and taxpayers, and explored the possibility that state educational officials—though nominal defendants—are working closely with plaintiffs. To learn more, click here.