Katherine Kersten is the Minneapolis Star Tribune columnist who makes the paper worth reading twice a week. Today OpinionJournal gives her the space to expand on one of her outstanding Star Tribune columns, which she does in “Black flight.” Kathy’s column opens:
Something momentous is happening here in the home of prairie populism: black flight. African-American families from the poorest neighborhoods are rapidly abandoning the district public schools, going to charter schools, and taking advantage of open enrollment at suburban public schools. Today, just around half of students who live in the city attend its district public schools.
As a result, Minneapolis schools are losing both raw numbers of students and “market share.” In 1999-2000, district enrollment was about 48,000; this year, it’s about 38,600. Enrollment projections predict only 33,400 in 2008. A decline in the number of families moving into the district accounts for part of the loss, as does the relocation of some minority families to inner-ring suburbs. Nevertheless, enrollments are relatively stable in the leafy, well-to-do enclave of southwest Minneapolis and the city’s white ethnic northeast. But in 2003-04, black enrollment was down 7.8%, or 1,565 students. In 2004-05, black enrollment dropped another 6%.
Kathy’s column tells a story with many lessons implicit in it. Here is her conclusion:
Minneapolis families seeking to escape troubled schools are fortunate to have the options they do. That’s not the case in many other states, where artificial barriers–from enrollment caps to severe underfunding–have stymied the growth of charter schools.
The city’s experience should lead such states to reconsider the benefits of expansive school choice. Conventional wisdom holds that middle-class parents take an interest in their children’s education, while low-income and minority parents lack the drive and savvy necessary. The black exodus here demonstrates that, when the walls are torn down, poor, black parents will do what it takes to find the best schools for their kids.
In her Star Tribune column today, Kathy asks: “Why are DFLers afraid of voting on same-sex unions?” I think the answer has something to do with the fact that state Democrats are afraid of another kind of exodus.