Does Minnesota School Board Diversity Matter?

by Jennifer Godinez, MnEEP Associate Director 

A recent MPR news report highlights a striking statistic about Minnesota school board representation. While almost 30 percent of Minnesota school students are youth of color or American Indian youth, only 3 percent of Minnesota school boards are leaders of color or American Indian leaders.

One might say it’s important that school boards comprise people who care about public schools and can run a meeting and follow by-law rules. But governing diverse schools with immigrant populations, American Indian students, and new populations also requires a crucial “Equity Lens.”

Governing with an equity lens requires  asking key questions about policies and practices, such as: “Who are the cultural communities in my district?” “How are distinct populations in my district affected by a new policy or practice decision?” “Are there certain populations that are disproportionally impacted by our school discipline code?”

Currently, school districts in Minnesota and across the U.S.  use an equity lens in decision-making and measuring progress on key indicators of racial equity and progress in their schools.

We know that by asking questions, as listed above, we can continue to use the equity lens regardless of our cultural background as board members or trustees. Yet does using an equity lens “come naturally” to people of color in governance? We also know that, yes, being a person of color or representing any group not in the majority does provide an organic equity lens to decision-making bodies such as school boards. As people of color, we may be more closely tied to cultural community events/ happenings, children and families such as ourselves, and share with other people of color similar histories that have impacted our schooling experiences.

For example, a Somali school board member can bring important insights to the religious and cultural practices of Somali families in a school setting. A Latinx board member will understand how immigration and DACA policies uniquely impact the Latinx community and other immigrant communities. A school board member who has been through English Learning curricula will ask important questions as schools determine curricula and set progress indicators.

While our Minnesota white colleagues on school boards can be best informed on these issues, a person of color or American Indian school board member has the lived experience and perhaps stronger cultural ties to their communities to have those discussions at the forefront of their governance actions.

Increasing school board members of color and implementing equity frameworks in school governance is crucial for shaping policy that can lead to stronger and more equitable academic outcomes for Minnesota students. Getting the 3 percent of Minnesota school boards of color to the representational 30 percent of our current student of color population will take time. Yet I am encouraged by the concept of assisting more people of color to run for school boards in Minnesota.

For now, groups such as MnEEP and other equity trainers are using “equity lens” trainings to advise current school board members on how to ask key questions related to race equity policy and practice.

For more information on our race equity trainings with school boards, please visit www.mneep.org or email us at jgodinez@mneep.org