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Proposal could eliminate integration aid

In addition the numerous changes already facing School District 833 this year -- a new high school, new school boundaries, a new superintendent and a transition to a middle school system -- yet another change is looming on the horizon.

Rep. Pat Garofalo (R-Farmington) has brought a bill to the Minnesota House of Representatives that would dramatically change the way districts are funded by the state.

"We should be funding those things that are improving a student's education," he said.

The plan Garofalo proposes would give districts an increase of one percent in state funding and boost the school lunch program from 12 to 18 cents per meal, while eliminating the integration aid that is given to schools.

"We can't be wasting money on hip-hop dance parties when we have kids who need extra attention," he said. "People want education dollars spent on the students, not on hip-hop parties and administrators."

Integration aid was started by the Legislature in 1997 and is the state's latest strategy to promote voluntary desegregation efforts. This school year, a total of 96 school districts received $88.1 million in integration aid.

District 833 receives $1.5 million in integration aid.

Most schools receive $129 per student if at least 20 percent of its students are minorities, but the Minneapolis and St. Paul school districts typically receive more.

Despite only having 22.5 percent diversity in schools, District 833 receives integration aid because it has partnered with St. Paul.

The goals of integration aid is to address isolation of students through student achievement and educational equity.

"We are seeing no gains in achievement," Garofalo said. "Particularly from minority students."

Garofalo said his reason for bringing this bill forward was because of the state deficit and he believes that the state should be spending funds on programs that directly benefit students.

"Under our plan, school districts can choose how to spend the money," he said.

Garofolo proposes that the integration aid revenue be reallocated to food services and transportation, so to provide better food and busing to students within a mile of the school.

Even though Garofalo may not see the benefit to the programs that the integration aid goes to, District 833 said these programs are very beneficial for everyone involved.

District 833 director of the Office of Equity and Integration Jeff Alden Pope said, if this proposed bill were to be approved, it would pose devastating consequences to the district and all districts.

"It basically changes the entire funding formula," he said. "It would take away the big question of the day, closing the racial gap, and it would take away any opportunity to address those concerns."

Pope said the programs District 833 funds with the integration aid are beneficial to both students and staff. Thirty percent of the aid goes towards professional development opportunities for staff so they can become more culturally sensitive and responsible towards their students.

The remainder of the aid helps to fund the International Baccalaureate program, student leadership, community outreach, kindergarten round-up and classroom programs such as "Synergy," which is currently being offered at Woodbury High School.

"We know that just putting students next to each other in a classroom does not necessarily equate to having an improved or well rounded education," Pope said. "Students have to be prepared to function in an inter-cultural reality.

"We all have different cultural backgrounds and we have to gain that understanding in order to be successful, but unfortunately we're not born knowing how to do that -- it's one of the more difficult things to learn."

The elimination of the integration aid raises questions about what will happen to these programs.

Pope said in all likelihood, these programs would not be able to continue, or at a very minimal level. This could also cause consequences for the schools that are funded by the East Metro Integration District, such as Crosswinds Art and Science Charter School, because they use a portion of the integration aid as well.

Pope said he feels that reallocating the integration aid towards food services and transportation is too extreme of a change.

"To take that and change that, it doesn't address the issue of racial desegregation anymore," he said. "Almost like it doesn't exist."

Another bill currently in the house reforms the integration aid format without completely eliminating it. The bill, proposed by the Democratic house members, would redirect the funding so that districts with higher minorities would receive more funding. With this proposal, District 833 would have their integration aid cut by $120,000.

Garofalo said a vote could be taken as early as this week.

"Our job has to be to inform people what this revenue is all about," Pope said. "So it's not viewed as waste, or fluff or extra money that we are just spending on frivolous activities."

Amber Kispert-Smith

Amber Kispert-Smith has been the schools and Afton reporter at the Woodbury Bulletin since 2008. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota. She previously worked as a reporter for Press Publications in White Bear Lake.

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