A landmark Minnesota school segregation case is nearing settlement. But the resolution of Cruz-Guzman v. State is contingent on the State Legislature’s enactment of a new bill incorporating the terms of the settlement reached through a lengthy mediation process.
Parents and children enrolled in public schools in Minneapolis and St. Paul filed a class action complaint in 2015, contending that school segregation deprives children in these school districts of an adequate education under Minnesota’s constitution, as well as the Minnesota Constitution’s guarantee of Equal Protection and Due Process.
The plaintiffs are represented by a team led by Daniel Shulman of the firm of Shulman & Buske. Mr. Shulman’s former firm, now Lathrop GPM, also continues as counsel for the plaintiffs. (Mr. Shulman is also a Staff Attorney with the Minnesota ACLU but is representing Cruz-Guzman plaintiffs in his status as Of Counsel with Shulman & Buske.)
The plaintiffs identified State policies that have caused and perpetuated segregation, including:
- boundary decisions for school districts and school attendance areas;
- the formation of segregated charter schools;
- the decision to exempt charter schools from desegregation rules;
- the misuse of federal and state desegregation funds for other purposes;
- the failure to implement effective desegregation remedies; and
- the inequitable allocation of resources.
Soon after the case was filed, three charter schools and several charter school parents intervened as defendants.
In 2018, the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled that the case could proceed to trial. The Court held “[i]t is self-evident that a segregated system of public schools is not ‘general,’ ‘uniform,’ ‘thorough,’ or ‘efficient’” under the Education Clause of Minnesota’s Constitution.
Education Law Center, along with over twenty of the nation’s leading education and constitutional law scholars, filed an amicus curiae brief in the Minnesota Supreme Court in support of the plaintiffs.
The Minnesota Supreme Court remanded the case to the district court in Hennepin County.
In 2019, with the consent of the district court, the parties voluntarily entered into mediation. The charter school intervenors moved for summary judgment, seeking to be exempted from any ultimate ruling or remedy issued by the court. The district court denied their motion, noting that two of the three intervening schools are intensely segregated and that sufficient evidence existed from which a fact-finder could determine that the State had intentionally created and permitted segregation.
On April 9, 2021, H.F. 2471, a bill incorporating the terms the parties agreed to during mediation, was introduced in the Minnesota legislature. The bill has five main components:
- A five-tiered model of identifying students based on multiple economic and social measures. Tiers four and five represent the most challenging environments. Homeless students are identified as tier five regardless of where they reside.
- Establishment of categories of districts, traditional public schools, and charter schools that must participate in a culturally responsive teaching, inclusion, and integration program and the parameters of participation
- A voluntary metro-wide integration program, which provides additional funding to both serving and resident districts that participate.
- A diverse magnet school program, which provides additional funding to hosting and resident districts and full state reimbursement for transportation; and
- A statewide family information system that presents data and facilitates school-by-school comparisons, as well as a repository of evidence-based strategies to improve outcomes and eliminate disparities for historically underserved populations.
The bill also sets forth the appropriations necessary to implement the proposed programs. The programs will cost $125 million in 2022-23, and $127 million in 2024-25.
At an April informational hearing before the House Education Finance Committee, Attorney General Keith Ellison and Mr. Shulman spoke strongly in favor of the bill. Mr. Ellison noted that the alternative to passing the bill would be costly litigation and a judicial resolution of these issues, rather than the legislature maintaining control. Several charter school intervenors continued to voice reservations about being subject to the integration provisions contained in the bill.
The bill will now proceed through the House and then to the Senate. Hearings on the bill will continue in the current legislative session, with the possibility of passage yet this year. If the bill fails to pass, the case will return to court in preparation for trial in 2022.
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