Twenty years after first case, lawyer to sue state again over school segregation

School segregation was supposed to end in 1955, after the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court rulings found that segregated schools were "inherently unequal" and illegal. It was supposed to end again in Minneapolis in 1995, when lawyer Daniel Shulman took the state to court over the segregated nature of Minneapolis's schools, even getting a few reforms to help fix the problem.

But nearly 20 years after that case, it looks like some of Minneapolis's schools are still just as segregated as ever. This time, Shulman's taking the state to court again, to hopefully stop the practice once and for all.

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When Shulman went to court 20 years ago, the problems were largely the same as they are now: huge imbalances among white and non-white students at certain schools. The most inexperienced teachers headed to the most segregated schools, leading to inadequate educations for a number of Minneapolis students.

But after the 1995 case, the state made commitments to change that, commitments like the "Choice Is Yours" program, allowing inner-city children to go to suburban schools. The state also gave better information to parents on what schools their children can attend, and it now has new standards that schools have to meet.

But, he says, they haven't made a difference. Just look at any one of a number of Minneapolis schools, he says, and it's obvious. At Nellie Stone Johnson Elementary School, 96 percent of students are non-white and nearly 93 percent receive free or reduced lunch. The numbers are nearly the same at nearby Bethune Elementary.

It goes the other way, too. Take Lake Harriet Upper School: It's got nearly 83 percent white students and only 8 percent receiving reduced or free lunch. Or Hale Elementary, with 77 percent white students (You can check the numbers here.)

"And this is a city with essentially 70 percent students of color," Shulman says. "I mean, the numbers are there. It's not hidden."

Minnesota put together a task force in 2011 as a compromise when Republicans tried to direct anti-segregation funds toward other uses. The group ended up recommending changing how the funding was dispersed, but their ideas ended up being largely ignored by the legislature in future sessions.

To stop the problem once and for all, Shulman's ultimate goal would be a full, metro-wide desegregation plan, one that has true incentives and consequences forcing the state and its schools to make real changes.

"The people who are adversely affected by this are essentially disenfranchised people with very little political influence or leverage," he says. "And unless there is a continual watch on this and a threat of consequences if this stuff continues, it will get worse."

Send your story tips to the author, Robbie Feinberg. Follow him on Twitter @robbiefeinberg.