Hennepin County Racial Covenants and Disparities in Education

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Hennepin County Racial Covenants and Disparities in Education

By Margaret Menso, Darling Lee, and Saido Omar | Fall 2021  | Class: DSCI 2994 Data Visualization Class

Racial Covenants

Before we dive into our findings about Minnesota’s Hennepin county education system, we must first explore the historic importance of racial covenants. 

Imagine yourself in the future, and you’re making your first housing purchase. It’s a huge step in your life with a ton of paperwork to sign. As you read through your documents, you find a section stating that someone within your ethnicity is not allowed to own the property. Although these covenants are no longer legally upheld, it doesn’t erase the time when it was legal. This is what we call racial covenants, covenants that were written into property deeds in order to keep people who were not white from purchasing or owning land. 

Although this won’t affect you from purchasing this home, it still, however, has a historical significance, even now. These covenants determined the population of certain ethnicities within an area and affected perceptions of “safety.” Neighborhoods that were deemed “safe” were predominantly inhabited by white people, and neighborhoods that were “unsafe” were primarily populated by black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC). Throughout this blog post, we will further explore the associations between racial covenants and access to education.

Racial Disparities in Education

Residential Segregation and School Funding

The location of your home determines which public schools your children will attend, and some schools are funded better than others. The census affects the funding a school receives because in communities with higher proportions of BIPOC individuals, children are more likely to be undercounted. School districts with an undercount of children will receive disproportionately less funding. Figure 1 (below) shows how the residential segregation patterns established by the racial covenants persist today. 


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Figure 1. Location of covenants (in red) and percentage of non-white residents in Hennepin County (2013-2017). 

Source: Covenant Data Explorer Map.

Figure 2 below shows the total number of white students in each district in Hennepin County compared to students of color. The districts with more students of color are in or closer to the city, whereas districts that are further away from the city have fewer students of color that attend the districts (as we will later also see in Figure 4). We created this graph below to help us visualize and compare the population of students of color versus the population of white students in each school district. We noticed that districts with more students of color are closer to the inner city, and most districts with large populations of white students are further from the city. 

Figure 2. Number of total of white students and students of color by school district.

Data Source: Minnesota Department of Education

These patterns of segregation have a massive impact on funding for inner-city school districts and education quality for students of color. Communities that historically contained fewer racial covenants tend to have a higher proportion of non-white residents. As mentioned previously, these communities with fewer white residents are at risk of the undercounting of children which will lead to schools receiving less funding than schools in primarily white neighborhoods. Even though racial covenants are no longer enforceable, they have already affected the education your children will receive based on where you live. 

Poverty and Homelessness

Below, Figure 3 shows the locations of racial covenants and where they are in respect to the school districts in Hennepin County. The presence of racial covenants appears to have some correlation to the school district, with clumps of houses with covenants being concentrated in districts in suburbs that are just outside Minneapolis. The black outlines on the map on the right side indicate the top 5 districts with students experiencing homelessness.

Figure 3. Location of racial covenants and school districts in Hennepin County. The top 5school districts with the most students experiencing homelessness are circled in black.

Sources: Mapping Prejudice and Minnesota Department of Education.

Below, Figure 4 shows which districts have the most students experiencing homelessness. (Note that the bar graph shows number of total students, rather than proportion of students. We recognize that districts with a higher number of students may also have a higher number of students experiencing homelessness, but we were only able to get total numbers, and not proportions, from our data.) These two figures tell the story of how racial covenants intersect with the income of families living in each district. The districts with the highest number of students experiencing homelessness also tend to be the areas without racial covenants, suggesting a relationship between racism and poverty. 

Figure 4. Number of students experiencing homelessness in each school district

Data source: Minnesota Department of Education.

Racial Disparities in Poverty and Homelessness

We used data from the Minnesota Department of Education to further explore racial disparities in poverty and homelessness. Figure 5 below shows a scatterplot visualizing the relationship between the number of students of color and the number of students eligible for free or reduced meals. The dots are color-coded by the school district. The number of students with free or reduced lunch increases with an increase in the total students of color, with a very strong correlation (r = 0.982). 

Figure 5. Scatterplot of total students of color versus total students eligible for free and reduced lunch.

Data Source: MN Department of Education.

Similarly, Figure 6 (below) also shows a positive trend when exploring the relationship between number of students of color and number of students experiencing homelessness. Again, we see a strong relationship (r = 0.950) showing that school districts with more students of color also have more students experiencing homelessness. This gives further evidence of strong racial disparities in poverty.  

Figure 6. Scatterplot of total students of color versus total students experiencing homelessness.

Data Source: MN Department of Education.

Summary and Conclusion

Throughout our research, we found there to be some disparities that stood out to us. In specific neighborhoods, residents were prone to experience more poverty than others. Specifically, Minneapolis, Anoka-Hennepin, Osseo, Bloomington, and St. Louis Park are the school districts with the largest number of students experiencing homelessness (Figure 4). It just so happens that these neighborhoods also tend to have fewer racial covenants than others (Figure 3), suggesting that most of these residents are also BIPOC, which is also supported in part by Figure 2. This highlights the potential differences in access to a well-rounded education. With more people at or below the poverty line attending these schools, less money from property taxes will be brought in. Moreover, residential areas with a higher proportion of BIPOC residents tend to be more prone to undercounting, which leads to less money available for school spending. Because less money is available to these schools, less money can go towards students’ needs, including instruction and lunches. Additionally, schools in districts with a high number of BIPOC students also tend to be schools with a high number of students eligible for free or reduced meals (Figure 5) and a high number of homeless students (Figure 6), as expected, furthering the presence of differing access. Students that do not get proper nutrition also do not learn as efficiently

Areas with fewer historical racial covenants tend to have more BIPOC residents, and we have seen that districts with higher non-white populations tend to be at higher risk of poverty and homelessness. Communities with a large majority of BIPOC students do not receive the same education, benefits, or support that students that live in majority-white communities receive. Students experience more struggles and hardships in communities and neighborhoods with more BIPOC residents. Because of these correlations, we can assume that BIPOCs are at a disadvantage to education due to segregation patterns established by racial covenants present in Hennepin County and contributing to educational disparities and systemic racism in the United States. It is very important for state and local governments to fund schools in areas with high numbers of BIPOC individuals and support these students’ needs so that educational disparities can improve.