Racial Covenants in School Districts

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Students at St. Kate’s are engaging with the WTDN in a variety of classes. Here’s how our students are thinking about the issues related to housing inequality and housing segregation. Their work demonstrates “thinking in progress”. 

Racial Covenants in School Districts

By Linnea Ziebol | Fall 2021  | Class: DSCI 1000 Data Visualization Class

Two children living in houses one block away from one another are bound to receive varying levels of education. A student on the west side of the Edina and Richfield district border, will be surrounded by more white students and children with higher ACT scores. On the other hand, the student who lives a block away on the Richfield border will receive less of those social benefits.  The matter of a block difference can change the quality of a child’s public school education. In a recent article, Dividing Lines “How School Districts Draw Attendance Boundaries to Perpetuate School Segregation”, there is attention drawn to the stark differences in school segregation that historically under-serve Black and Hispanic students. The “invisible lines” in school redistricting can be traced to urban development. Boundaries in urban development have created further segregation of public schools, and Hennepin County public schools are no different.

Figure 1. The Map above shows the spatial distribution of racial covenants in Hennepin County. The county boundary is shown in darker grey with school boundaries as the black outline. The purple color is representative of a racial covenant, data provided by the Mapping Prejudice Project. The location of all Hennepin County public schools are shown by the black squares.
Figure 2. This map shows the spatial distribution of institutions of higher education represented by the black points. The dark grey filter with an orange outline shows the Hennepin County boundary and encloses the colleges and universities located throughout the county. The green rectangles in this map are shown as the distribution of racial covenants. 

The racial demographics of school districts in Hennepin County represent a typical American metropolitan area racial makeup. Data from the Minnesota Department of Education shows that the closer a school is to the inner city, the more diverse the school student population is. Minneapolis Public Schools lead the county with its large percentages of minority students, followed by neighboring cities like Brooklyn Center and Richfield. Much of the publicly available data is dated back to the early 2000’s, but the progression of racial demographics can be assumed as following a similar trend seeing that there have been no major changes to end school segregation. 

Figure 2. The scatterplot shows the percent of students that are either white or identify as a minority in Hennepin County school districts. The data from the Minnesota Department of Education details the makeup of student populations. Brooklyn Center, Richfield, and Minneapolis school districts are highlighted as having the highest rates of a minority student population in 2000 and 2005.

Figure 4. The histogram details the percent of students who identified as a minority by their race. The grouped bars of each school district are in order of least amount of racial covenants to the largest amount of covenants in the school district. Richfield, Minneapolis and Robbinsdale had the largest amount of covenants and also relatively higher shares of minority students. The bars show a higher percentage of Black students than any other minority race in almost all school districts.

The trend of inner cities having more diverse student populations can be connected to the families’ incomes. The status of Free and Reduced Lunch Eligible gives an estimate for the amount of students that come from lower income families. The percent of students eligible shown below follows a similar pattern for the percent of minority students in schools. More affluent school districts have lower shares of minority students. Our student from Hopkins would be much more likely to be white while the student living a block away in Richfield would most likely identify as a part of a minority group based on this trend in demographics of Hennepin County school districts.

Figure 3. The bar graph represents the percentage of students in Hennepin school districts who were eligible for free or reduced lunch in the 2017-2018 school year. Brooklyn Center had the largest share of its students who were eligible for the program.

Our student on the Richfield side of the Hopkins and Richfield district line would statistically have 11 points less on their 2019 ACT than their neighbor who went to Hopkins. The mean scores of each school district show a large discrepancy within Hennepin County. Perhaps not so coincidentally, the school districts with the lowest ACT scores also have the highest rates of students eligible for free or reduced lunch, as well as the largest percentage of students who identify as a minority.

Figure 5. The bar graph tells a story about the mean ACT scores of students in each school district in 2019. The more inner city the school district is, the more likely it is that the students will have a lower test score. The number of racial covenants a school district has is also shown by the color of the bars with the gradient getting darker blue where there are more covenants. 

 “The Effects of the 1930s HOLC “Redlining” Maps” finds that red lining has a meaningful impact on urban development. But before even redlining, racial covenants stood as the first system of housing discrimination. Racial covenants are clauses in deeds stating that houses cannot be sold to people of color. The first racial covenant in the Twin Cities was in 1910. Racial covenants are another source of negative impacts on housing for people of color. These impacts are being studied in Hennepin County on the urban development of school districts. The segregation of schools is a longer term effect of racial covenants to be studied. 

Figure 6. The scatterplot above shows the number of racial covenants in each school district. The circles are sized based on the population of students in each district for the 2017-18 school year. The Minneapolis school district was found to have the largest amounts of racial covenants, but also the largest population of students. Since the covenants are not represented as shares, there is no real meaning to be drawn from Minneapolis having the highest amount.

Data on the share of covenants for houses built dating back to before 1940 has not been made readily available yet. However, there are supplements to getting a share of covenants to get a more accurate idea on the effect of covenants. Data from the 2017-2018 student population against the sum of racial covenants gives a better idea of the relative number of covenants to each district. My analysis of the racial covenants in school districts goes on to summarize the possible long term effects through school segregation. 

School districts have suffered in Hennepin County from the effects racial covenants have had on urban development. The impact covenants have had on students’ education can be seen to this day. There is hope for reparations of this effect with school desegregation. When schools become desegregated, we might finally receive educational equity in Hennepin County. 

Sources/Further Reading:

  1. Tableau graphs https://public.tableau.com/app/profile/linnea1123/viz/RacialCovenantsupdated12-7/NumberofCovenantsinSchoolDistricts
  2.  Click here for interactive version of the maps https://stkateds.maps.arcgis.com/home/webmap/viewer.html?webmap=8ecdd0045d5b4d36817bc5cf20d9503f