EXCLUSIVE: Minnesota schools spend big on equity consultants 

Multiple school districts across the state have paid upwards of $60,000 for outside consultants to conduct "equity audits."

Minnesota Department of Education/Facebook

Taxpayer-funded school districts across the state have spent huge sums of money hiring outside consultants to conduct “equity audits” and related work, in some cases using COVID-19 relief funds to cover the costs.

The primary beneficiaries of this scheme include Equity Alliance Minnesota and the Minnesota Education Equity Partnership, a group managed by a current state legislator.

In the Sartell-St. Stephen School District, school administrators entered into an $80,000 contract with Equity Alliance Minnesota last October, according to a copy of the contract recently obtained by a group of concerned parents.

The district was charged $54,243 for an equity audit and another $40,000 for an “equity action plan” but received a $14,000 discount for selecting “multiple services.”

Equity Alliance Minnesota also offered to provide “professional development” services, presumably for teachers and staff, in which they would “understand how culture, power, and race impact self and others” and learn to “identify the impacts of racism and bias in and out of the classroom.”

According to one local news outlet, the cost of the contract was paid for with COVID-19 relief funds.

Parents and community members gather for a Monday night school board meeting in Sartell to protest the district’s partnership with Equity Alliance Minnesota.

The Centennial School Board was in the process of approving a contract with Equity Alliance Minnesota earlier this summer but paused the discussions amid community backlash. According to one report, residents were primarily concerned by the board’s plan to join Equity Alliance as a full-time member.

The annual membership cost is $32,500, according to a copy of the proposed two-year contract obtained by Alpha News.

Centennial Superintendent Brian Dietz said Equity Alliance Minnesota charges members a rate of $5 per student, Quad Community Press reported.

All told, Centennial planned to pay $125,000 for its first year of membership — including $50,700 for an equity audit and $28,000 for an equity action plan — and $38,500 for its second year.

It appears member districts are also asked to enter into a joint powers agreement, the purpose of which is to “support the movement toward systemic E-21 education equity and integration,” according to a 2017 copy of the agreement.

Districts that sign the JPA then appoint one member to Equity Alliance Minnesota’s Joint Powers Board, which is “vested with all those powers granted to independent school districts by Minnesota statute.”

Sebastian Witherspoon, executive director of Equity Alliance Minnesota, sits on the Joint Powers Board.

Rep. Donald Raleigh, R-Circle Pines, expressed concern with the JPA’s language during a May Centennial School Board meeting, the Quad Community Press reported.

“I would ask the board, as you are contemplating getting into a contract like this, number one, are you allocating powers that should be reserved to the [school] board itself?” he said.

Despite the reported “pause,” the Centennial School District says on its website that its work with Equity Alliance Minnesota is “ongoing.”

“The District’s work with Equity Alliance MN to better understand bias has been underway since 2018. The first year of this work focused on demystifying culturally responsive practices and increasing the intercultural competence of leaders,” the district explains.

Current members of Equity Alliance Minnesota include Roseville Area Schools, Inver Grove Heights Schools, South St. Paul Schools, White Bear Lake Area Schools, and Forest Lake Area Schools. As members, these districts have likely paid Equity Alliance Minnesota for its costly services as well as annual fees for “consortium membership.”

The group was founded in 1995 and operated various magnet schools throughout the Twin Cities under the name East Metro Integration District up until its 2013 rebranding, according to the Pioneer Press.

As part of this rebranding, the group shifted its “strategic direction to grow the organization’s customer base,” per its website.

“Some of our members and other clients are not in the ‘east’ metro. The term ‘district’ is harder to explain now that we don’t operate schools. Therefore, EMID now is doing business as Equity Alliance MN,” its website states.

Like their peers to the north, the Mankato School Board recently dished out $67,000 to an equity consultant. Except this time, the money went to the Minnesota Education Equity Partnership, a nonprofit managed by Democratic Rep. Carlos Mariani. Like Equity Alliance Minnesota, Mariani’s group lists several Minnesota schools and colleges as “partner organizations” that “generously support our efforts to promote systems level change.”

Rep. Carlos Mariani speaks to the media at the Minnesota Capitol. (Minnesota House Public Information Services/Facebook)

At the Minnesota Education Equity Partnership, they believe “U.S. education is designed to uphold racism.”

One concerned parent in Sartell recently told Alpha News that “competent” teachers and administrators should be able to handle these issues internally, without the help of outside consultants.

“We want Equity Alliance out of the picture, because they’re creating division,” he said. “It’s never too late to make the right decision, because this is coming to a district near you. They are not going to call it critical race theory; they mask it in different words. But pay attention, because it’ll infect and divide your district.”