Beth Hawkins, MinnPost, April 22, 2014 – Today Your Humble Blogger confesses to being perpetually behind.
To wit: Last fall, the Minneapolis School Board took the landmark step of voting to require an equity impact assessment be performed on every program and policy created in the district. This is huge.
Think of it as the race- and poverty-focused equivalent of an environmental impact statement. You know, like the studies that have been done on the proposed PolyMet copper and nickel mine in northern Minnesota.
The Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) assessments seek to ensure that decisions are made by diverse groups of stakeholders and that the initiatives contemplated support the district’s focus on equity. It’s a simple process that, taken seriously, could have a profound impact.
So far, staff seems to be struggling with the concept that the board means business in this department, and the board seems willing to cheerfully and sweetly remind them of its importance. And they’re not accepting any of these “We’ll clean the groundwater for 500 years, honest” promises, either.
But on to the point of this post: The policy and its roots have gotten some well-deserved national attention from the nonprofit Race Forward, which has offices in Oakland, Chicago and New York City. The group is showcasing the effort as a success story and is offering other communities the tools to replicate it.
To that end, Race Forward, which publishes the excellent Colorlines, has produced a 12-minute video that features Minneapolitans talking about the evolution of the equity impact assessments. If you are at all interested in equity in education or the power of community organizing, it’s worth a watch.
The nutshell version: In the run-up to its 2008 referendum, MPS backers asked various minority communities to vote yes on the levy. Unconvinced the district was committed to their interests, leaders of the groups turned to the Organizing Apprenticeship Project, which formed a coalition that assessed the impact passage of the levy would have on people of color.
The group came out of the process convinced the referendum was badly needed if the district was to honor its commitments, and it was communities of color that delivered the vote.
The following spring, the group turned the process — five simple questions — into a pocket guide to budgeting equity that could be used by cities, counties or any other policymaking entity.
Later that year MPS asked the group to assess the potential impact of a high-profile move to change school attendance boundaries. This time, the organizers said no, the district needs to learn to do this. Et voila.
And so I deliver you, Dear Reader, into Race Forward’s capable hands.