The legislature has been moving fast and furious to take a narrow margin of control in both houses of the legislature to fundamentally change major Minnesota laws and policies. Education law has not been spared that treatment, as bills are passing granting money based only on race, and requiring CRT in Minnesota schools as a fundamental principle in our education standards and curricula.
The week of April 24, the Legislature took up the education finance and policy omnibus bills, and there is a lot in there. I will start with the lowlights:
- In the education finance omnibus bill, article 1, section 16, school boards will be allowed to renew an expiring referendum by board action alone — no action of the taxpayers — if it is the same as the amount expiring and no longer than the initial referendum. Taxpayers are often concerned about the approval of levies and referenda, which increase their taxes, and often advocate for the school districts to make do with what they have, especially if their current spending is wasteful. This provision, if fully adopted, should raise an alarm to voters to be prepared that if they vote to approve a referendum, they can expect it could easily be “doubled” in size and length by an action of the school board and no further input from them.
- Also in the education finance omnibus bill, article 4, section 13, grants are provided to certain teachers in Minnesota — but based on the color of their skin or their ethnic identity alone. Race-based classifications like these are subject to strict scrutiny under our Fourteenth Amendment because they are likely just race-based discrimination. These grants include grants only available to black and American Indian “mentors,” grants for race and ethnicity-based “affinity groups,” and grants only for black and American Indian teachers for master’s or graduate courses. Much of the drive for these concepts is based on the idea that teachers of color are better “role models” for students of color. The U.S. Supreme Court has rejected this theory as a basis for racial classifications in the law related to teachers.
- In the education policy bill, article 3, section 3, “ethnic studies” has been approved by both houses and will be required to be included in every single “standard” in Minnesota schools. Sen. Jim Abeler tried to amend the bill to require teaching of “the study of diversity and ethnicity,” but that failed on a party-line vote. Ethnic studies is not, as some supporters falsely state, about “real history.” Here is its definition: “Ethnic studies analyzes the ways in which race and racism have been and continue to be powerful social, cultural, and political forces, and the ways in which race and racism are connected to other axes of stratification, including stratification based on gender, disability, class, sexual orientation, gender identity, and legal status.” This is about the prevailing progressive theory that America is a nation steeped in white supremacy and racism to its core, and it explicitly requires instruction on intersectionality — how all victim groups are placed on lower tiers of society by the majority race, ethnicity, and so on. In short, it will require Minnesota’s standards for all K-12 subjects to include critical race theory as a fundamental principle of learning.
- But the bill doesn’t stop with the academic standards and ethnic studies. It also strips local school districts of their power to keep CRT out of curriculum. As you may know, academic standards are created by the Department of Education and provide a set of expectations for learning for students. Local school boards have wide discretion to set curriculum to best situate students to achieve those expectations. But not anymore, as it relates to what the Legislature calls “antiracism.” In article 6, section 2 of the bill, each school board will now be required to “integrate … curriculum that is … antiracist and culturally sustaining.” Antiracist is defined in article 6, section 2 as “actively working to identify and eliminate racism in all forms.” A portion of the language in the definition of “antiracist,” which stated, “so that power and resources are redistributed and shared equitably among racial groups,” was deleted from SF 1311 by Sen. Steve Cwodzinski’s A-47 amendment on a 51-15 vote. That language remains in the House companion bill, and it is unclear yet whether the House will revive it in the Senate file.
- In other words, coming to a public school curriculum near you, if it isn’t already there, your children will be learning lessons that reinforce the principle that all outcomes must be the same in order for our society not to be racist. But how is “antiracism” put into practice in the real world? According to one of its most famous proponents, Ibram X. Kendi:
“The only remedy to racist discrimination is antiracist discrimination. The only remedy to past discrimination is present discrimination. The only remedy to present discrimination is future discrimination”
This is racism, pure and simple. Race-based discrimination has no place in our country, no matter the race of its proponents.
- I could go on with other examples of very controversial requirements advanced by these bills. But I do want to highlight a couple of positives from the last week.
- First, again, you will recall that a couple episodes ago with Renee Carlson, we talked about some members’ attempt to make faith-based universities ineligible for the Minnesota PSEO program, which would be blatant religious discrimination. The House passed that discriminatory provision on a party-line vote. But in the Senate, Sen. Julia Coleman introduced an amendment that passed, 34-33, removing this illegal provision from the Senate version of the bill. Now, the two bills will go to conference committee to determine whether the Senate or House version will be adopted. We hope that the Legislature wisely chooses the Senate version, but you can guarantee a lawsuit will follow swiftly if the House version, with this discriminatory provision, is made into law.
- Second, Sen. Jim Abeler was able to introduce an amendment that removed a provision that would have eliminated a pathway to Tier 3 teacher licensure by virtue of teacher experience, as opposed to through a teacher prep program. Over 1,000 Minnesota teachers were relying on the pathway to Tier 3 licensure through experience, and the bill threatened to end that route, which would have potentially pushed those teachers out of the classroom. And the fact is, minority teachers are more likely to use that experience pathway. Because we at UMLC believed that the bill would have potentially violated the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the U.S. and Minnesota constitutions, we sent a letter to the House and Senate majority and minority leaders, and the chairs and ranking members of all committees hoping to educate and inform them about the bill. We hope that our efforts were helpful to the legislature, and we are glad the experience pathway remains for Minnesota’s teachers.
What now, then? As you can see, we at UMLC are closely following every action of the Legislature. We are staying informed so that we can take action against laws passed that are illegal and unconstitutional. And you had better believe that we are marshaling all of our resources to do exactly that. And in addition, we at UMLC are standing up against illegal actions across the state, taken by the legislature or even by your local school board. On April 27, we filed a new lawsuit in Sorcan v. Rock Ridge School District because Rock Ridge censured board member Polly Sorcan, removed her from committees, and told her she was also barred from even learning about what committees do — which board members part of the scheme have admitted was designed to keep Ms. Sorcan uninformed about the board’s business. Why? Because she asked hard questions, encouraged fiscal discipline, stood up for proper interpretations of the law, and supported the public’s right to speak to and address the board. The First Amendment does not allow such retaliation, and we are proud to represent Ms. Sorcan.
That’s it for this week on Minnesota Law Weekly. You can learn more about the Upper Midwest Law Center by visiting umlc.org, and you can also make a confidential, tax-deductible donation on our website or by sending us a check to 8421 Wayzata Blvd., Suite 300, Golden Valley, MN 55426. And we would urge you to do that. We are fully donor supported and charge our clients nothing. And we are standing up for you in court and want to fight for you on every front. Help us do more for you by making a donation today. Thank you, and we’ll see you next week.
This is a transcript from the Upper Midwest Law Center’s Minnesota Law Weekly podcast, lightly edited for brevity and clarity. Subscribe to the podcast here.