An HIA of a proposed policies to encourage school racial/ethnic integration in Minnesota.
The goal of school integration is to provide all of Minnesota’s students with an equal opportunity for a good education. But integrated schools also promote better health.
We know that the more education one has, the better are one’s chances of getting and keeping a good job. But there are also established links between education and health beyond career and income, and integration strengthens those links. Studies show that students who attend integrated schools stay in school longer, have access to better resources, do better in the classroom, are less likely to be incarcerated and are better prepared for life in an increasingly diverse society.
In turn, a large volume of research has established a strong correlation between the quality, amount, richness and diversity of educational experience and improved health – longer life, fewer illnesses, improved mental health, and better personal habits. These factors promote health not just while students are in school, but in adulthood and even for future generations.
Those findings are the consensus of a Health Impact Assessment (HIA) by Human Impact Partners, a nonprofit research group in Oakland, Calif., and ISAIAH, a faith-based organization working for racial and economic justice in Minnesota, in collaboration with a panel of teachers, a school district administrator and a school board member, parents, public health practitioners, racial justice advocates, and a member of the state’s Integration Revenue Task Force.
The HIA team evaluated the projected health effects of Minnesota Bill HF0247/SF0711, which proposes to reauthorize integration funding and guide how schools use it, thus addressing racial integration in Minnesota schools by supporting opportunities for all students to succeed. The legislation would require schools that receive funding to show progress toward integration and equity in educational opportunities. The bill also has the potential to make progress towards true integration – defined as not simply placing different races in the same school but, in the words of one civil rights scholar, “bringing students together under conditions of equality, emphasizing common goals, and deemphasizing personal competition.”
The bill’s passage is crucial to maintaining and improving the programs, plans, and policies currently in place that support school integration and, through its benefits to educational achievement and cross-race understanding, promote better health for all Minnesotans. Failure to pass HF0247/SF0711 would be a significant setback for integration, educational achievement, cross-race connection and, ultimately, health.
Evidence of the connection between integration and health cited by the Health Impact Assessment includes:
- Children of color who attend integrated schools tend to have higher incomes as adults. Higher incomes make it easier to obtain health care, healthy food and physical activity, and a home in a neighborhood with resources like supermarkets, parks and playgrounds. All of these, combined with knowledge of the importance of healthy habits, better support a healthy lifestyle.
- The effects of education on health are passed down through generations, as the educational attainment of adults is connected to the health of their children.6
Lower educational attainment for parents limits their ability to create healthy environments for their children and to model healthy behaviors. These factors impact children’s health directly and indirectly through cognitive and behavioral development.
- The social consequences of low educational attainment include losses in workforce productivity, lower economic growth from having an inadequately skilled workforce, and more crime and thus more victims. One study in Colorado found that the costs to society for each student who fails to graduate from high school are more than half a million dollars.
- A comprehensive approach to integration leads to increased cross-race connection in classrooms, which then results in lower levels of prejudice in children, adolescents, and adults.10 This can lead directly to improved mental and physical health for people of color.11 It also contributes to greater comfort in future multiracial settings for people of all racial/ethnic backgrounds, contributing to increased success in the workplace and in civil society.
While the HIA research and stakeholder panel concluded that there are indeed health benefits associated with the passage of HF0247/SF0711, the study also found that the bill could be improved and a broader range of programs and strategies could be included to ensure that school districts can achieve true integration. As written, the bill would allow districts to maintain critical progress on measures such as test scores. If amended, it would set the stage for a more holistic approach that considers not just racial balance but the comprehensive policies and programs that are needed to achieve equity.
HF0247/SF0711 is only one component of building an equitable education system. If the bill is passed and other policies that fully support children of color in integrated schools were also to be implemented, educational achievement and cross-racial connection would increase significantly. If these policies were fully implemented, health outcomes for all of Minnesota’s children would improve.