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Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Turnout in the 2018 Minnesota General Election

Following reporting about Minnesota's 2018 general election, including postings on statewide races and state representative races, today the IMO blog continues its coverage, looking into voter turnout, which was historically high for a midterm election. Turnout rates were highest in the Twin Cities metro and for women across the state, together significantly helping Democrats gain victories in races across statewide offices. 

Election Turnout Trends

A common occurrence with election cycles is that the percentage of residents turning out to vote dips during midterm elections. This decline in turnout, however, did not happen at the same level in the 2018 election, as it did in previous midterms in 2010 and 2014, as shown in the chart below.  Places across Minnesota had higher turnout, with some locations outpacing others in gaining votes.

In 2018, the Twin Cities suburbs had the highest turnout rates in the state, nearly 65%, a rate much higher than in the prior two midterm elections. The combined cities of Minneapolis and Saint Paul had the next highest rate, about 58%, slightly surpassing the overall Outstate vote for the first time since 2008 when Obama first was elected as U.S. President. 

Turnout in Outstate Minnesota was much lower than in the Twin Cities suburbs, equally lower in both the cities of Duluth, Rochester and St. Cloud and in the remaining Outstate area. This was unlike the other midterm elections, when these central cities lagged the rest of Outstate by 5 to 10 percentage points

The turnout rate was calculated taking the total number of votes for president and total votes for governor (during the midterm) divided into the number of persons age 18 and over.  
The Twin Cities suburbs includes municipalities from Anoka, Carver, Dakota, Hennepin, Ramsey, Scott Washington and Wright Counties, and does not include Chisago and Isanti Counties because their data was not reported in the sample data.
Data is from the Minnesota Secretary of State and U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey 1 year sample data.

The chart below better shows the differences in the magnitude of change between 2018 and the prior two elections. The cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul had the largest increase in voter turnout from the last midterm, an increase of 17.3 percentage points in the turnout rate from 2014. The Twin Cities suburbs and the other Outstate central cities also had double digit increases in the turnout rate, while the rest of Outstate Minnesota had a significant increase, but one that was comparably smaller than other locations--about half that of the cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul.

As is typical between a presidential and midterm election, turnout rates dropped between 2016 and 2018, but fell far less than usual, as shown on the chart above.  As shown on the chart below, the cities of Minneapolis and Saint Paul had the smallest drop off, only -5.8 points, followed by the Twin Cities suburbs (-8.8) and other central cities (-7.9). The drop in the turnout rate was largest in the non-central city portion of Outstate Minnesota (-10.6).

Election Turnout Geography

The map below shows the percentage of the voting age population that cast a ballot for governor in 2018 by Minnesota municipalities. Such turnout was high across the state with clusters of very high turnout (rates of 80 percent or more) scattered across the state. The county inset on the map shows that turnout was somewhat greater in Northeast, North Central, West and Southeast Minnesota. More important to the accumulation of votes, is the cluster of high turnout municipalities in the more populous 11-county Twin Cities metro area. As shown on the map's charts, turnout was significantly higher in the Twin Cities (62.7%) than in Outstate Minnesota (57.2%).
Click to view pdf version of map

In the Twin Cities' metro, turnout was above average in most municipalities throughout the area, but was consistently high (rates of 70% or more) in outer ring suburbs near the edge of the built up urban area, except on the north edge of the metro. Many first and second ring suburbs also had high turnout rates, with first-ring Edina and Mendota Heights having rates in excess of 80%. 

While Minneapolis' turnout rate was higher than average, and St. Paul's was lower than average, as shown on the map above, there are major differences in turnout when breaking the cities out by state legislative districts, as does the map below. Here turnout rates were high in more affluent districts in South Minneapolis and in Southwest St. Paul, but were lower in North and South Central (Phillips) Minneapolis, as well as in the North End and East Side of St. Paul, places with greater concentrations of racial minorities and poverty. Turnout rates also tended to be lower in inner-ring suburbs adjacent to low turnout city districts, most notably Brooklyn Center.
Click to view pdf version of map

How much did turnout change the results of the 2018 Election?

Changes in midterm voter turnout patterns (2014-2018) between Minnesota locations did benefit Democrats. Calculated from the data above, Democrats in statewide races gained 1 to 2 percentage points in the share of total votes, more than they would have if the 2014 turnout rates prevailed in 2018.  This figure is based on voters turning out across municipalities at the same rate as they did in 2014 and with shares of voting across parties kept the same as in 2018.

Who turned out to vote also impacted the election, and in this regard, women led the way in helping the Democrats gain victories, while demographics such as age and income had less of an impact in the statewide racesDemocrats in statewide races gained around an additional percentage point of the total share of the vote, more than they would have if the total vote share for women remained the same as 2014's, and if women's vote share across parties in 2018 was held constant.

Data used to calculate the share of women voting comes from NBC exit polls for Minnesota in 2014 and 2018. The chart below shows the results for the U.S. Senate seat formerly held by Democrat Al Franken, and in it the percentage share of the total vote by gender (columns) and the percentage of votes for parties by men and women in the last two midterm elections (column sections).  

The share of of the total vote by women climbed from 51% in 2014 to 54% in 2018. Just as important, the share of women voting for Democrats rose from 58% to 61%. A large part of the gain was due to the increase of 'Independent' women voters who gained a 3 percentage point share of the total vote between 2014 and 2018, and whose Democratic voting percentage was 60%--a full 10 percentage points higher than it was in 2014. 

Similar demographic trends found in this U.S. Senate special election race can be found in the State Governor and U.S. Senate (Klobachar's seat) elections, with women increasing in the share of the total votes and increasingly voting Democratic. 

While changes in turnout between locations and genders helps explain roughly one-third of the Democratic margins of victory in 2018, it is notable that voters tended to more often cast ballots for Democrats in statewide elections than they did in the last midterm, regardless of their location or their demographic profiles.

Friday, November 9, 2018

Mapping the 2018 Minnesota Legislative House Election Results

Following yesterday’s IMO blog, where statewide election results for many major races were reported at the precinct-level, today we report on the results of the Minnesota State House elections at the legislative district-level.  Here Democrats won the majority in the 2018 Minnesota State House, capturing 75 of the 134 seats, and like many other current election contests, they did well in urban portions of the Twin Cities metro, in Northeastern Minnesota, in the Moorhead area and in various districts in Southeastern Minnesota.

Minnesota House of Representatives

The map series below shows that Democrats have held the state house in two of the last four election cycles, in 2012 and 2018, while Republicans held the majority in 2014 and 2016. In 2012, Democrats held 73 seats, including more Outstate districts than in 2018— as shown on the map below, a more expanded blue area in Northeastern and Western Minnesota, as well along the I-35 corridor south of the Twin Cities. While the Democrats lost many of these rural districts by 2018, they gained even more overall seats this year (n=75) by expanding their victories in the metro, capturing most districts in the Twin Cities urbanized area.

Republicans have consistently continued to take away Outstate seats from Democrats, and have held seats in the outer ring suburbs of the Twin Cities in 2012, 2014 and 2016, even encroaching closer to first ring suburbs in 2016. Yet in 2018, they lost seats in every second ring Twin Cities' suburb.

House Control in Four Election Cycles

The maps below show which party now holds house districts in 2018, by how many times the winning party held them over the last four election cycles. Republicans have consistently held the house in a diagonal band across the state, interrupted by the Twin Cities and the Moorhead and Winona areas. This consistency can also be seen Outstate across Southwest Minnesota.

Democrats, on the other hand, have consistently won seats in the Twin Cities’ central cities, inner suburbs and roughly half of the second ring suburbs.  They have also done well in the Duluth area and the Iron Range in Northeastern Minnesota, as well as in some districts containing Outstate cities, including Austin, Mankato, Moorhead, Rochester and Winona.


House Control by Margins of Victory

Another way to consider how stable the latest house election results might be is to determine the the margins of victory for the districts in 2018. Here the Republican margins of victory are highest (won by more than 30 percentage points) West and Northwest of the Twin Cities and in the Northwestern and Southwestern corners of the state. For Democrats, the victory margins are highest in Minneapolis and Saint Paul, and their inner ring suburbs, as well as Outstate in Duluth, Moorhead and Winona.

Most of districts that were won with low margins of victory (won by less than 10 percentage points) were in the Twin Cities’ second and outer ring suburbs, including 18 of the 24 low margin districts. Overall, Democrats won 16 out of 24 of these districts, and of those 16, only 1 was held by Democrats in 2016. Clearly 2020 looks like it will be shaping up to be a battle over the suburbs. 


Over the course of four state house election cycles, Republicans have increased the margins of victory in Outstate Minnesota. While the loss of the Democratic Outstate vote has contributed to Republican majority houses in 2014 and 2016, the blue wave across Twin Cities’ suburbs offset such losses for Democrats whose party reached a convincing victory in 2018. Future Republican success is unlikely without the party taking the into consideration issues and concerns of metro area voters.

Conversely, Democrats still gain significant shares of Minnesota’s Outstate vote. Northeast Minnesota, for instance, has been reliably voting Democratic across races and time periods, and many smaller Outstate cities have consistently voted Democratic as well. While Democrats may need to focus on solidifying Twin Cities’ metro gains, it would be detrimental for them to ignore Outstate Minnesota, especially in the smaller metro areas outside of the Twin Cities’ region.

Mapping the 2018 Minnesota General Election Results

Minnesota’s general election was held two days ago, Tuesday, November 6th, resulting in a high turnout for a midterm election and a victory for Democrats in statewide races.  The Institute on Metropolitan Opportunity has mapped the results of most of the major races at the precinct-level, including the State Governor's and Attorney General's races, the contest for two U.S. Senate seats and the statewide results for the U.S. Congress. 

Democrats fared well, in large part, because the Twin Cities metro area cast a large share of the votes, and in the metro, the party has sustained strong support from voters. In 2018, the Twin Cities cast 63% of the state’s midterm vote, a percentage point higher than its share in the 2016 U.S. Presidential election. Democrats also fared better in Outstate Minnesota, compared to 2016, as none of the Republicans in the 2018 statewide races gained 55% of the Outstate vote, as President Trump did in 2016. 

Click on maps to enlarge or below the images to link to map in pdf format

State Governor:

State Attorney General:

Some democratic candidates, such as Keith Ellison, won in large part because of strong turnout and support in the central cities and inner suburban metro area, while also gaining some Outstate support in Northeast Minnesota and in a small collection of counties that marginally supported the democratic party. On the other end of the results, Amy Klobuchar captured not only most of the urbanized portion of the Twin Cities, but won a larger share of votes with Minnesota's Outstate voters than her opponent, Jim Newberger. 

Two favorable results for the Republicans included the winning of U.S. 8th District’s Pete Stauber, who outperformed his other republican candidates in the Iron Range, beating opponent Joe Radinovich, and the victory of U.S. 1st District’s Jim Hagedorn, who took the seat formerly occupied by now State Governor Tim Walz. On the other hand, Republican’s lost two congressional seats found in the Twin Cities metro, including Erik Paulsen’s seat, mostly covering suburban Hennepin County and Jason Lewis’ seat, which covers both suburban Dakota and Scott Counties.

U.S. Senate:

U.S. Senate (Special):

U.S. Congress:

Twin Cities Results and Urban Area:

Much of the competition for the Twin Cities’ metro vote happens from the second ring suburbs to the perimeter of the built-up urban area, which includes a number of municipalities that have recently become more racially diverse. The image below shows how the core of the urban area is solidly democratic and the rural and exurban portion of the metro is solidly republican, while the intensity of democratic support waxes and wanes concentrically from the inner suburbs to outer portions of the Twin Cities' urban area, varying according to election races and candidates.

 Link to Twin Cities-specific election results maps for:

Friday, August 17, 2018

Mapping the 2018 Minnesota primary results

Minnesota's gubernatorial primary was held last Tuesday, August 14th, and clear geographic trends appeared in the voting patterns. The Institute on Metropolitan mapped the outcome of both the Republican and Democratic contests. The maps can be found below, along with a close-in version of the Twin Cities 11-county metropolitan area. Click the images to zoom. Downloadable PDFs of the maps can also be found here.

Statewide Democratic Primary Results

11-County Metro Democratic Primary Results

In the Democratic primary, each candidate performed well in relatively well-defined areas that correspond with previous political exposure. In southern Minnesota, the site of Walz's congressional district, his ticket won resoundingly. Murphy performed best in the central cities of Minneapolis and Saint Paul - especially Saint Paul, the site of her state legislative district. And Swanson dominated in northern Minnesota, where her running mate Rick Nolan is the current congressman.

 The vast majority of Democratic primary votes - over 400,000 - were cast in the Twin Cities metropolitan area, where Walz and Murphy ran neck in neck. Only about 180,000 Democratic votes were cast in the rest of the state. Among those, Walz won a large plurality and Murphy ran a distant third.

Statewide Republican Primary Results

11-County Metro Republican Primary Results

 The outcome of the Republican primary appears less geographically defined. An approximately equal share of votes were cast in the Twin Cities and the rest of the state, and in both regions, Johnson scored a slight majority while Pawlenty's vote share lagged in the low 40s. Johnson performed slightly better in the northern part of the state, but no region forms a clear base of support for either candidate. Notably, Pawlenty did perform very well in southern Minnesota cities, like Red Wing and Rochester.

Within the Twin Cities region, Pawlenty had a relatively good showing in the central cities and many first- and second-ring suburbs, while Johnson won exurban areas. The notable exception to this pattern is Johnson's strong showing in the northwestern suburbs surrounding Maple Grove and Plymouth. This area corresponds neatly with his current Hennepin County commissioner district.

Friday, August 3, 2018

News Roundup: Focus on school discipline, part 2

The Institute on Metropolitan Opportunity is pleased to feature the School Desegregation News Roundup: periodic updates and reflections on educational desegregation and related issues, provided by Peter Piazza, an education policy researcher based in Massachusetts. Updates are crossposted on his site, available here.

Last week, I wrote about recent research on racial disparities in school discipline. In a continuation of that post, I wanted to write about how themes from the research - unconscious bias, for example - affect real students/families in very real ways, as seen in a few recent stories.

Antwon Rose Protest (Source: Katelyn Sykes)

As mentioned in part 1, these stories have been overshadowed by other news. But they are too important to go unnoticed. One covers an extrajudicial student discipline system that I had never heard of. The other is a recent version of a story that we hear all the time. Among several disturbing similarities, in both stories, Black and Latinx students are denied due process in ways that are deeply morally troubling.

Recently, the ACLU filed a lawsuit against the Riverside County Probation Department in California for its Youth Accountability Team (YAT). The YAT was ostensibly designed as a program to intervene with so-called “pre-delinquent” or “delinquent” youth before they got into more serious trouble. However, it functions in the opposite fashion, basically “funnelling [students] into the criminal justice system.”

One of the plaintiffs, Andrew, was using an orange for a hacky-sack game with his friends at school when the orange bounced through the legs of a school resource officer. Andrew was handcuffed and taken to the principal’s office where they searched his backpack and found marijuana.

Andrew was then given this option: sign a contract to be part of the YAT or go to juvenile court. No lawyer was present. He signed the contract.

Andrew’s case is one of many. Specifically, YAT functions in 17 school districts in the county and “from 2005 to 2016, 12,971 youths were under a YAT contract, 25 percent of whom were accused of a noncriminal offense.”

Unsurprisingly: “Black students were 2.5 times and Latinx students were 1.5 times more likely than white students” to be caught in the YAT dragnet. Students got into the YAT system for things like “talking back to teachers, earning poor grades, being late to class, or ‘pulling the race card.’”

What happens then? YAT contracts give law enforcement officials basically unrestricted access to student information, including school records and counseling reports. The contracts require regular drug tests and meetings with probation officers, over and above what a court would likely recommend given the infraction. Probation officers could even visit student homes, and one officer was even quoted saying “We can do all kinds of surveillance, including wire taps on phones, without having to get permission from a judge.” That’s a real quote.

Even worse: “law enforcement officials keep detailed information about YAT participants long after they’re done with the program, which can be used against them later.”

The lawsuit (full text) is asking that the court prohibit the use of the YAT system under situations of coercion and without students fully understanding their legal rights. I’ll track any updates.

Then, there’s the story of Antwon Rose, a 17 year-old Black teenager who was recently shot and killed while running away, unarmed, from a police officer. There have been big protests about this in East Pittsburgh, but I’m not sure it’s gotten nearly enough attention in national news. The story itself is far too big to summarize in this post, but the links here have a lot of background.

Antwon Rose (Source: Huffington Post)

What I want to focus on is the connection to Antwon’s experiences at school. This Huffington Post article reports that “a long shadow of police brutality followed Antwon Rose’s childhood.” Specifically, the very school that Antwon went to was already named in a lawsuit from 2017, charging that it fostered “a culture of abuse at the hands of high school administrators, security members and school resource officers.” Reflecting on Antwon’s killing, a protester (and graduate of that same school) was quoted as saying: “When you think about where Antwon went to school...he saw his friends getting beat up by these cops and how the justice system works against their abusers. Would that not inform your interaction with police officers?” 

He continued: “In this present-day culture ― a culture where Antwon exists, where Tamir Rice exists ― to expect a black child to go into school and feel safe with officers who are armed … that’s violence against them.”

There is severe disregard for this issue at the federal level and things have been getting worse. ProPublica recently reported that more than 1,200 civil rights probes from the Obama administration have been shut down by Betsy DeVos. Many of these deal with school discipline issues. Ken Marcus was recently confirmed as the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights under DeVos. As you can see in this letter from civil rights groups, things are unlikely to improve under his leadership. 

So what can be done? ProPublica is, in part, stepping into the void left by the DOE - you can use this “share your story” website to let them know about civil rights violations at a school. They may follow up with investigative journalism, in place of actual investigation from law enforcement arms of the federal government. 

And the power of attention and communication can't be ignored. Amidst the maelstrom of terrible news, it’s important to stay on top of the big stories that don’t get big coverage, to talk about these with friends, to get people fired up about it, so that we can make progress in the small places where that is possible and, hopefully, open up spaces for more progress in the future. 

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

The Minnesota Supreme Court's decision in the Cruz-Guzman school desegregation case: summary and key takeaways

Today, the Minnesota Supreme Court issued its long-awaited opinion in a landmark state desegregation case. The decision is a major victory for the plaintiffs, civil rights advocates, and opponents of school segregation. While the lawsuit is still ongoing, the court's decision has eliminated a major legal obstacle facing the plaintiffs, and strengthened their case going forward.

Although the issues before the supreme court were narrow, the court's language strongly suggests that it is willing to embrace the active elimination of segregation in Minnesota schools. Its decision may also have major implications for charter schools, and may spell trouble for another lawsuit seeking to eliminate teacher tenure in Minnesota.

These developments will be discussed below. But first, some background on the case.

The lawsuit, Cruz-Guzman v. State of Minnesota, was filed in late 2015 by a group of Minneapolis parents seeking statewide school desegregation. The plaintiffs argued that Minnesota schools are highly segregated, and that any segregated system of schools was "inherently inadequate," in violation of the state constitution.

The plaintiffs' claim relies on the "Education Clause" of the state constitution, which instructs the state legislature to create a system of schools that is both "general and uniform" and "thorough and efficient." In a previous ruling, the state supreme court had found that this language created both a legislative duty to provide a system of adequate education, and an individualized fundamental right to an education.

The Cruz-Guzman plaintiffs also made more traditional desegregation claims, arguing that schools had been intentionally segregated, violating students' constitutional right to equal protection under the law.

Importantly, the lawsuit did not seek a specific remedy. Instead, it only asked that the state recognize and eliminate the constitutional violation -- i.e., that the state find a way to eliminate segregation in its schools.

Although the lawsuit was filed only against the state, not any individual school or school district, a group of charter schools intervened after filing. The charter schools sought a declaratory judgement that they were not bound by the state's desegregation rules, and asserted that, as schools of choice, they by definition could not be segregated.

After initial motions to dismiss, the district court allowed most of the plaintiffs' claims to advance. However, before the trial began, the state appealed, and the Minnesota Court of Appeals threw out the case.

In doing so, it relied on a single, simple ground: it held that the plaintiffs' Education Clause claims were a political question more appropriate for the legislature, and therefore "nonjusticiable." In other words, the Court of Appeals said that the Education Clause's fundamental right to an adequate education was unenforceable in court, at least as it related to school segregation.

Today, after a second appeal, the state supreme court reversed that decision. It decided that enforcing the Education Clause is indeed the obligation of the courts, and that Cruz-Guzman plaintiffs could proceed.

Standing alone, this decision would constitute a major victory for civil rights advocates, giving them their day in court, so that they can make the case that Minnesota school segregation is severe, worsening, and corrosive to educational opportunity. But in addition to the court's main holding, there are several noteworthy passages which should please the plaintiffs and their supporters around the country.

The Court Endorses the Unconstitutionality of Segregation

Perhaps the weightiest statement made by the Minnesota Supreme Court in Cruz-Guzman is found in footnote 6. Despite appearing in a footnote, this passage has dramatic implications for the case. It reads as follows:
The dissent concedes that a claim of segregated schools is justiciable, but maintains that appellants’ claims are not “traditional” segregation claims and therefore the claims are not justiciable.  It is self-evident that a segregated system of public schools is not “general,” “uniform,” “thorough,” or “efficient.”  Minn. Const. art. XIII, § 1.  Regardless of whether the context is a “traditional” segregation claim or a different type of claim, courts are well equipped to decide whether a school system is segregated, and have made such determinations since Brown, 347 U.S. at 495.  
This constitutes a remarkably clear endorsement of the idea that segregated education is incompatible with the Minnesota Constitution.

In particular, the holding that it is "self-evident that a segregated system of public schools is not 'general,' 'uniform,' 'thorough,' or 'efficient," has major consequences for the resolution of Cruz-Guzman.

The first implication of this passage is that the plaintiffs' evidentiary burden is much lower than was previously assumed. Thus far, the plaintiffs have operated under the assumption that, to prove their Education Clause claims, they would have to prove two distinct facts:
  1. That Minnesota schools are segregated; and
  2. That segregated schools are inherently inadequate, and therefore violative of the Education Clause.
But in this footnote, the court dismisses all talk of "adequacy." Instead, it states that it is "self-evident" that segregated school cannot satisfy the constitutional requirements. In other words, the fact that segregation violates the Minnesota Education Clause is simply presumed. As a result, it appears that plaintiffs no longer need to focus on demonstrating the negative effects of segregation; instead, they only need to focus on proving that it exists.

As an aside, this statement also undermines an important argument of the charter school intervenors. The charter schools had hoped to make the case that segregation in charters schools did not result in an inferior, inadequate education. This footnote suggests that that claim is no longer available to them -- it leaves no room to assert that Minnesota schools can be constitutionally segregated.

The second implication of footnote 6 is that the plaintiffs do not have to prove that segregation has been created intentionally. Although the court does not explicitly mention intent, it implies that the mere fact of existing segregation would create a system that is not general and uniform.

Citations to Rose v. Council for Better Education

The court sends a second signal with an evocative citation to a landmark education law case.

In Rose v. Council for Better Education, the Kentucky Supreme Court held the state's entire school system unconstitutional, ruling that it did not meet the requirements of the state constitution. This was the first major state "school adequacy" lawsuit, touching off a national wave of state-level school litigation.

The Kentucky court famously required sweeping changes to the state's educational system in order to conform to state constitutional requirements. It wrote"[t]he children of the poor and the children of the rich, the children who live in the poor districts and the children who live in the rich districts must be given the same opportunity and access to an adequate education." It also devised six broad evaluative factors to determine whether schools were adequate.

Over time, some state courts have developed a more negative view of the Rose decision. In particular, judges have seemed concerned that Rose-like reasoning would obligate courts to conduct open-ended interventions in the education system -- a role some feel is more properly left to the legislature.

But in today's decision, the Minnesota Supreme Court expressed no such skittishness about Rose, citing the case without reservation:
We will not shy away from our proper role to provide remedies for violations of fundamental rights merely because education is a complex area.  The judiciary is well equipped to assess whether constitutional requirements have been met and whether appellants’ fundamental right to an adequate education has been violated.  See, e.g., Rose v. Council for Better Educ., Inc., 790 S.W.2d 186, 212–13 (Ky. 1989); Pauley, 255 S.E.2d at 877–78.  Although the Legislature plays a crucial role in education, it is ultimately the judiciary’s responsibility to determine what our constitution requires and whether the Legislature has fulfilled its constitutional duty.
Not only does the Minnesota court embrace Rose's conclusion that the courts are ultimately responsible for delivering constitutional rights, it also suggests that it shares Rose's broad-minded approach to solutions. In particular, the opening line in the passage above is unambiguous: "We will not shy away from our proper role to provide remedies for violations of fundamental rights merely because education is a complex area." This is not the language of a court that is preparing to take a laissez-faire, soft-touch approach to an ongoing constitutional violation. Instead, it is the language of a court that seems prepared to intervene vigorously to vindicate the rights of Minnesota schoolchildren.

Discussion of "Copious Data" Showing Segregation

The merits of the plaintiffs' segregation claims were not before the court in this decision, and it did not weigh in directly on those claims. However, while laying out the history of the case, the court did include language that suggests it had found the plaintiffs' presentation of data and social science evidence to be compelling:
The complaint contains copious data demonstrating a “high degree of segregation based on race and socioeconomic status” in Minneapolis and Saint Paul public schools.  The public schools in Minneapolis and Saint Paul that appellants’ children and other school-age children attend are “disproportionately comprised of students of color and students living in poverty, as compared with a number of neighboring and surrounding schools and districts.”  These segregated and “hyper-segregated” schools have significantly worse academic outcomes in comparison with neighboring schools and suburban school districts in measures such as graduation rates; pass rates for state-mandated Basic Standards Tests; and proficiency rates in math, science, and reading.  Appellants describe these racially and socioeconomically segregated schools as “separate and unequal” from “neighboring and surrounding whiter and more affluent suburban schools” and detail the extensive harms of racial and socioeconomic segregation.  
This passage is not dispositive, of course; no trial has been held, no experts have testified, and the defendants have not responded to these claims. But most of the plaintiffs' statistical evidence is effectively unrebuttable -- straightforward statistics on changing school populations, sourced to the state's own data. In other words, if the court finds this evidence to be compelling, the defendants have a hard road ahead if they intend to change its mind.

The Court Distinguishes Cruz-Guzman from Other Adequacy Claims

Throughout its short life, the Cruz-Guzman lawsuit has been dogged by parallel claims in a superficially similar case, which was filed shortly afterwards. That case, Forslund v. Minnesota, mimics the famous Vergara lawsuit in California, and attacks Minnesota's teacher tenure law as unconstitutional.

The Forslund case, like Cruz-Guzman, relied on the state Education Clause. It claimed that many Minnesota students were receiving an inadequate education. It then argued that, because some research shows teacher labor protections and other educational regulations are correlated with reduced academic performance, those laws had to be overturned so students' right to an adequate education could be vindicated.

Because they both rely on the same constitutional provision, Forslund and Cruz-Guzman have frequently been tied together. Critics asserted that Forslund showed the dangers of allowing parents to bring Education Clause claims. If Forslund succeeded, critics claimed, any statute, rule, or policy that eroded academic performance could also be attacked as unconstitutional, reducing judges to a perfunctory policymaking role.

The two cases also tracked each other through the courts. After the Forslund case was roundly defeated in district court, it was thrown out by an appellate panel, which justified its decision by citing Cruz-Guzman and the alleged nonjusticiability of the Education Clause.  

Ironically, despite this shared history, Forslund's plaintiffs were frequently antagonistic to the desegregation plaintiffs of Cruz-Guzman. They filed an amicus brief to the supreme court in Cruz-Guzman, but did not argue that the court should allow the desegregation case to proceed. Instead, the Forslund plaintiffs only maintained that that their own claims were distinguishable and should survive. 

However, the supreme court today adopted an alternative frame, which favors Cruz-Guzman and disfavors Forslund:
Providing a remedy for Education Clause violations does not necessarily require the judiciary to exercise the powers of the Legislature.  Appellants stress that their complaint “does not actually ask the court to institute any specific policy.”  Rather, their prayer for relief asks the district court to find, adjudge, and decree that the State has engaged in the claimed constitutional violations.  (emphasis added)
In other words, Cruz-Guzman can continue because it only asks the court to declare that existing Minnesota segregation is unconstitutional, and does not seek any specific remedy. It identifies a violation of a fundamental right, but it does not seek to use the courts to implement a preferred package of policies.

The same cannot be said of Forslund. The latter case is broad and vague about the identified violation, citing, somewhat generically, lower test scores and academic performance. But it is very precise about the remedy it seeks: a specific change to a particular law. The language of the supreme court suggests that while Cruz-Guzman's claim is justiciable, Forslund may be asking the court to engage in an inappropriate exercise of legislative power.

No Exceptions for Charters

Since nearly the very beginning of the Cruz-Guzman case, charter schools, as third-party intervenors, have asserted that they are not bound by the same desegregation rules that bind traditional Minnesota schools. They have argued that state law exempts them from most desegregation requirements, that they cannot be segregated by definition, and that any government interest in segregation must be weighed by the equally important consideration of parental choice.

Today's decision makes no mention of any of these assertions. While the substance of the charter schools' claims was not before the court, the decision's use of sweeping, broad language is still suggestive -- for instance, the declaration in footnote 6 that it is "self-evident" that segregation violates the constitution. There is little to indicate that the supreme court is considering carving off a constitutional exception for charter schools, or otherwise permitting them to self-segregate in the name of parental choice or some other principle.

School Desegregation Research Roundup: Focus on school discipline, part I

The Institute on Metropolitan Opportunity is pleased to feature the School Desegregation News Roundup: periodic updates and reflections on educational desegregation and related issues, provided by Peter Piazza, an education policy researcher based in Massachusetts. Updates are crossposted on his site, available here.  

There have been major stories recently regarding school diversity (among other things!), including the Trump Administration’s reversal of Obama-era guidance on Affirmative Action. In the Trump era, and by design, just about every day brings a deluge of stories that are often as consequential as they are morally shocking. In that constant wave of big stories, others get lost, though these are often just as important and troubling. I want to focus on one of those overlooked topics: racial disparities in school discipline.

(Source: Alliance4EdJustice)

So far this summer, there’s already been at least four important studies released about school discipline, as well as several appalling news stories -- including yet another police shooting that has not gotten nearly enough attention. There was a bit too much for one post, so I split it into two parts – this one focuses on the research and an upcoming post will look at the news stories.

Of the studies here, two primarily focus on unconscious bias, and two look at the effects of exclusionary discipline. In the interest of space, I’ve kept the summaries brief. As always, I encourage a full read. Here’s what I found most compelling:

Unconscious Bias
  • This study, published a few weeks ago, looks at aspiring teachers’ reactions to student facial expressions. Researchers showed them 20 pictures of Black and White students faces, and they watched 4 videos of Black and White student misbehavior. They found that “misbehaviors were perceived as more hostile for Black than White boys” and that a similar “anger bias exists toward Black females.”
    • “While black girls make up about 80 percent of the city schools’ female student body, they accounted for 95 percent of suspensions.”
    • “While approximately 33 percent of female youth in Maryland are black, they represent 65 percent of the female placements at the Department of Juvenile Services.”
  • In Baltimore, discipline disparities are exacerbated by the fact that the city’s school district is the only one in Maryland that actually has its own police force. It’s important to note that there’s both a personal/educational cost to the individuals who are suspended (more about that below) as well as a larger social cost. The Baltimore Sun article notes that when Black girls speak up about things that bother them, they are “labeled as aggressive rather than encouraged to be activists.” And society loses out on the benefit of their activism.
Exclusionary Discipline
  • This study comes from Minnesota, and looks at students’ experiences of exclusionary discipline (e.g., suspensions and expulsions). It’s rare in the school discipline literature in that it relies on interviews with actual students as its primary source of data. And it includes a lot of great recommendations, such as helping students feel “valued, welcomed and connected.” In interviews for the report, “young people discussed feeling undervalued at school, noting that racism and other forms of negative labeling (being known as a troublemaker) from school personnel were often drivers of treatment that led to those feelings.”
  • Published in the highly respected American Journal of Education, this study looked at whether there is a causal relationship between suspensions and negative academic outcomes. In other words, do suspensions make academic performance worse? And it found that they do. Chalkbeat has a great summary. In short:
    • The study included about 70,000 NYC high school students between 2005-2011, and it compared each student to her/himself before and after suspension.
    • The researchers concluded that the suspensions themselves made it less likely that students would pass their math and English classes and more likely that students would dropout.
    • One caveat: after the time period of the study, NYC changed its school discipline policies to reduce suspensions. So this research can’t tell us whether those policies had a positive effect on student outcomes.
I should note there have been some sources of hope here – such as a new Ohio bill aims to bar suspensions for K-3 students. 

For some issues in the school diversity universe, the relationship between structural racism and student outcomes can be complex, and difficult to see immediately. But racial bias in school discipline is different. Factors like unconscious personal bias and structural racism are directly observable in the numbers. Again -- in Baltimore, Black girls make up 80 percent of the female student population, yet account for 95 percent of the suspensions. All but 5 percent!

Likewise, solutions to racial inequality can also be complex, but in the case of discipline disparities, it should be straightforward. Several of the studies above recommend that instead of relying on police and/or exclusionary discipline, schools should hire more counselors and student support personnel. It’s exactly like the students say in the photo above – this is from the Alliance4EdJustice, a coalition of youth organizers who work for the liberation of youth of color. In the photo, students are standing before the federal Department of Education, holding signs that read “Counselors Not Cops” and wearing shirts that say “End the School to Prison Pipeline.” There’s an enormous social cost to ignoring/disregarding these kinds of changes. Next week, I’ll look at how that social cost is evident in several recent news stories that are, in my opinion, as morally appalling as others that attract national headlines.