ISAIAH, Feb. 14, 2013

Testimony from Sarah Gleason

As people of faith, we are commanded to love one another. We are guided by the deep knowledge that our lives and our fates are inextricably entwined. We believe that if we choose to put thriving children, families and communities at the center of our public decision-making, we can prosper together. ISAIAH is committed to racial, economic and geographic equity, which we define as the proactive reinforcement of policies, practices, attitudes and actions that produce equitable power, opportunities, treatment, impacts and outcomes for all Minnesotans. We believe all public investments and all public policy must increase equity, in order to advance our collective health and prosperity.

ISAIAH leaders closely followed the progress of the Integration Revenue Replacement Task Force throughout its deliberations, because we believe that the path to a healthy and prosperous future for Minnesota is rooted in opening access to opportunity, restorative investment, and communities growing together. Despite significant differences among the Task Force members in approach, political orientation, and understanding of the charge and purpose of the Task Force, after many hours of learning together and serious discussion, they were able to come to agreement in support of a set of recommendations. We call on the legislature to follow the example of the Task Force, and come together across partisan lines to create the “Achievement and Integration for Minnesota” (AIM) program based on their recommendations.

As people of faith, we know that our individual health and wholeness depends on the health and wholeness of our community. The health and prosperity of our entire state depends on our ability to learn, work and grow together, across race, class and geography.  The proposed AIM program would build our ability to do this, while addressing some of the equity gaps that have excluded and held back students and families of color, and resulted in our so-called racial ‘achievement gap’.

We see school integration as a crucial strategy in achieving equity in education. Truly integrated schools affirm the identity and cultures of all students, and provide equitable access to opportunities and to power. They break down stereotypes and barriers to full participation, build relationships across difference, and teach skills for working together and sharing power. They provide students and families of color with access to opportunity, power and resources, and white students and families with access to wholeness and the opportunity to exercise faith and hope. They are critical in breaking the cycle of systemic racism. Integrated schools are essential for the health of our democracy, and a necessary tool for achieving equity, the foundation for a future of shared prosperity.

We believe that our current approach to ‘school choice’ has allowed us to ignore our responsibility to ensure that all students, in all schools, have equitable access to opportunity. It has had the impact of pitting school districts against one another, segregating schools and leaving behind disadvantaged students and families. It has not been an equitable system. We support efforts to decrease barriers to ‘choice’ and increase access to opportunity for families of color and low-income families. Our state owes all students and families a quality education with opportunities to explore a range of interests, access to powerful networks and relationships, excellent teachers, and the resources needed to support student development.

Our efforts toward integration must be equitable in both process and outcomes. This requires an intentional focus on equity, and transparency and accountability to families and communities. The Achievement and Integration for Minnesota program would create the accountability and transparency that were found to be lacking in the previous program. It would promote collaboration and shared learning among school districts across our state, increasing effectiveness and efficiency of district efforts. **The limited resources dedicated to the AIM program would be leveraged through collaboration among districts, and the convening role of the Department of Education. Promising practices would be identified, shared, and used to inform professional development, planning and policy discussion. When districts collaborate and learn from one another, our whole state benefits from local innovation.

Testimony from Phyllis Hill

As we look at the outline of the Achievement and Integration for Minnesota program, we see many aspects that are essential to moving us toward a strong, equitable public school system that reflects the sacredness of our children.

We see public education as the cornerstone of our democracy, where we prepare our children to be engaged and contributing members of their communities, not just good test-takers. We see this vision reflected in the use of integration revenue to prepare all students to be effective citizens, enhance social cohesion, and reinforce democratic values.

We believe that to achieve this vision, our school policies, practices and people must be aligned and accountable, not only to standardized test scores, but also to progress on measures of equity and opportunity, such as access to early education, advanced level programs and post-secondary preparation, elimination of tracking based on race or class, equalization of disciplinary treatment, and increasing staff diversity and cultural competence.

We know that our children’s success in school can only be achieved in partnership with their families. This understanding is reflected in the use of AIM revenues to promote and support family engagement. This must include effective approaches to build parent power and ability to impact what happens in schools. Because we believe that transparency and accountability to the community is an important aspect of the path to racial and economic equity, we support local establishment of goals, and accountability and reporting to local communities. We recognize that ‘local control’ has often operated in favor of the most privileged. We must ensure that throughout the process, the interests of all parts of our communities, and the goal of equity, are served by the AIM program.

We strongly support the use of AIM revenue for professional development. We need teachers and other supporting adults that are ready, willing and able to validate the cultures of all of their students, and implement instruction and engagement strategies that support all students, particularly students of color, in meeting high expectations and achieving at a high level.

The AIM requirement that districts implement formative assessment practices is also crucial. Educators need timely, useful assessments to inform, shape and target their interventions and practice, and students need them to recognize and support their development and success.

We agree there is a need to level fiscal disparities between demographically similar districts. We strongly agree with the idea of creating incentives for districts to cooperate to reduce racial enrollment disparities. This is a regional problem that demands regional solutions. The current system penalizes ‘sending’ districts, and this should be changed.

ISAIAH supports the examination of the merits of one collaborative Metropolitan Integration District. Its service area would coincide with that of the Metropolitan Council, which would provide enhanced opportunities for collaboration on housing and transit to promote stable conditions and access to opportunity for students across the Metro area.

Past public policy has divided and stratified our society by race and class, and institutionalized inequities. Schools that mirror this division and stratification can only perpetuate systemic racism, marginalizing students of color and socializing white students into the lie of white superiority. They create deep racial disparities in student outcomes. They sustain the divisions that rob us all of our wholeness, and put our democracy in peril. As long as we allow our current reality of deeply segregated schools, classrooms, and opportunities to stand, we abandon all hope of a bright future for any of us, whatever our race, in an increasingly diverse Minnesota.

Truly integrated, equitable schools can seem an impossible dream. But our history teaches us that when we act together with faith and courage, new things are possible. Either we believe that all African American, all Latino, all Asian, all Native American children can achieve, or we don’t. If we believe, then we know our institutions are failing these children and their families. If we believe, we do not have the choice to give up simply because it is not easy, or because we have not yet found the right approach.

Integration and the pursuit of equity is not a social experiment, but a moral and societal imperative. As people of faith, we deeply believe that healthy, equitable communities are possible. We can create the conditions that will enable families and communities who have been left behind to thrive and flourish. The status quo of separate and stratified education and opportunity to thrive is immoral, unsustainable, and cannot be allowed to stand. We must summon the courage to co-create bold solutions that can transform our society, and put us on a path to shared prosperity, grounded in racial and economic equity.

The AIM program may be a small step, but it would be a step in the direction of transformation. **We know in our hearts that while the path toward equity may be a rocky and difficult one, it is the path we must take, together, step by step, in faith and hope. **The Minnesota Legislature should come together courageously, as the Task Force did, to enact the Achievement and Integration for Minnesota (AIM) program outlined in the Task Force recommendations for the good of our whole state. It will be an important step toward the bright future we know to be possible for all our children.