MN Senate Response From Senator Carolyn Laine

Senate response to Chuck Li’s Opinion piece from May 2018

 

Editor’s note:  In the May issue, Chuck Li presented an Opinion piece on his views and concerns on the state’s use of disaggregating ethnic data of school children.  China Insight contacted state officials for comment.

Below is a response from Senator Carolyn Laine, DFL, District 41.  Laine was elected to the Minnesota House of Representatives in 2006-2014 and to the Senate in 2016.  Education is one of her areas of concern.

Also included here is a letter dated March 2018 to the Minnetonka School District from MASER (Minnesota Alliance for Stopping Ethnic Registry), one group formed to spearhead opposition of the state’s collection and use of ethnic data in public schools.  

There is a 145-page report to the Legislature on data disaggregation.  To provide background information on the issue for our readers, the Legislative Charge and Executive Summary are reprinted here.  A complete copy of the report is available at China Insight’s website, www.chinainsight.info, search under “Education” tab.

China Insight will continue to provide updates on the issue and welcome feedback from all concerned.

 

State Response

Thank you for the opportunity to respond to the editorial printed here in the May issue.  Charles Li acknowledges in that essay the good intentions of proponents of disaggregating racial data to help identify gaps in educational achievement among our children in grades K-12.  These good intentions have informed the research done by the U. S. government since 1966 to help identify many causes of disparity in academic achievement in our diverse citizenry and so to help provide opportunity for all children.  This goal embodies our American values.

However, I am concerned by the progression and tone taken in his essay.  The author suggests that, by disaggregating this information on educational achievement, limited resources would be taken from the Chinese who are doing very well and given to other groups.  As I was wondering what resources he is talking about, I realized he is referring to college admissions and fears a racial quota system for colleges that would limit the number of high-achieving Chinese students.  Several years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court declared racial quota systems illegal and unconstitutional.

Yet he also links this K-12 research data that is summary data, never attached publicly to a particular student, and is even optional, to “ancestry registration” lists, which he insists would not only divide the Asian community but lead directly to racial persecution, even harkening to Nazi Germany’s treatment of the Jews.  My head spins at these conclusions. I can only say if you want to prevent racial prejudice and attack, work hard for a just and welcoming society, within and outside of your own ethnic grouping.

In researching background for this article, I have learned that affirmative action in college admissions is one of, if not the most, divisive issue within the Asian American community.  So, settling back from the hype of this article, concerns do exist about whether Asians who achieve very strong test scores and grades may be competing with each other for college admission at prestigious universities.  This discussion is worth having, but without the extreme “stop ethnic registries!” fear-mongering.

I need to step back for a moment here and clarify some legislative facts regarding Minnesota’s bill for disaggregating ethnic subgroups for educational gaps at the elementary and secondary levels.  The bipartisan “All Kids Count Act” was authored by Sen. Susan Kent and Rep. Rena Moran in 2016. It was signed into law by the Governor on June 1, 2016. The following year legislation was sought by the Department of Education, to help them set up implementation, which simply limited the number of categories and created six pilot districts.  Please contact me if you need more information on how to find this timeline and see the bills.

I clarify this because it is just one of many misrepresentations of the work of the Council of Asian Pacific Minnesotans (“the Council”).  The legislative work on the bill happened in early 2016, led by Sen. Susan Kent and Rep. Rena Moran. The Council did not carry the bill, but we did testify at hearings and discuss it with legislators.  By June 2016, the bill was signed into law. Even before this bill, the Council had researched and published “Asian Pacific Students in Minnesota – Facts not Fiction” in March 2012. Back then, the Council was led by a different board and different Executive Director.  Through all its changes, the Council has always had a policy of support for disaggregating data to correlate ethnic information with K-12 student achievement.

I also call to your attention the statutory mission and purpose of the Council (and the other two ethnic councils).  The Council must work to improve the economic and social equality for all its constituency. The Council members must collaborate with each other and the Executive Director in carrying out this mission.  A council member’s focus is on the whole API community, while representing all of one’s diverse ethnic group in this work. Majority positions become the policy of the Council.

A council member must separate their personal opinions from the council policies.  When speaking as a representative of the Council or when attending a Council-led function, Council positions are represented.  Of course, privately we all have our own opinions, but we do not claim to be speaking as a Council member in them. As I learned 25 years ago on a school board, this is true on all boards.

Zoe Zhi came on the Council in summer of 2017.  It has been challenging for the Council, and I assume for Ms. Zhi, because of the difficulty she had in honoring the overall council purpose to serve the whole API community, her duties as a member to collaborate in carrying out this mission, and her mixing up of council positions with her own.  There were several deeply concerning outcomes of this difficulty.

Therefore, I asked Ms. Zhi to join me for a conversation in my office April 3.  Rep. JoAnn Ward joined us. My Legislative Assistant took notes so I would not have to.  We talked for over two hours, going over details of the difficulties experienced, seeking acknowledgement and understanding from Ms. Zhi for going forward.

Near the end of this conversation, I used API Day at the Capitol as an example.  It is an event organized annually by the Council, led by the Council, to fulfill the purposes of the Council.  Therefore, as I have said above, as a Council-led function, it is not the place for a rally opposing a Council policy.  Ms. Zhi turned her cell phone on to record our explanation of this. I said, as Ms. Zhi’s cell phone can evidence, that any group is free to have their own rally anytime for their own purposes.  But a rally against disaggregated data did not belong at the Council’s annual Day at the Capitol.

The next day at the Executive Committee meeting, Ms. Zhi still seemed to not understand this, so the Chair cancelled our API Day at the Capitol.  We also indicated at that April 4 meeting, that a special meeting would be called shortly to consider removing her from the Council; the Council has worked long and hard to earn respect at the Capitol and we will not let that be jeopardized.  Nearly a week later we learned that MASER was organizing a ally against “ethnic registry.” That is completely within their purview to do.

Yet even with our voices recorded by Ms. Zhi and clearly stating any group could rally anytime, the sidebar essay in this newsletter’s May issue disparaged the Council and us as if we had not clearly discussed this issue with Ms. Zhi.  This simply must stop. There is a vast difference between respectfully disagreeing on policy and attacking our integrity.

If membership on the Council was sought as a way to seek power to make this one legislative change to remove disaggregating student data from law, it was sought by mistake.  If having discovered that, the goal is now to disparage the Council, the Executive Director Sia Her, or the other board members, I must ask her respectfully, but firmly, to stop.

We are at a crossroad in this society; we can let resentment become hate, or we can have loyalty to principles rather than to self-interest, knowing responsibility is the price of freedom.  I ask you to join me in making a commitment beyond ourselves to a community of justice.

 

Sen. Carolyn Laine

Carolyn Laine