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Duluth schools get reprieve on state money

Money that the Duluth school district receives from the state to pay the salaries of staff who work with the most at-risk kids is no longer in jeopardy.

The Minnesota Department of Education told the district Thursday that it does in fact qualify for achievement and integration program money, of which last school year it received $1.6 million. The money is meant to aid in racial integration and help reduce achievement gaps, and the district submits a plan every couple of years to be approved by the state in order to receive the money.

Earlier this month, the state told the district it no longer qualified because of changes in its makeup of students of color. District staff have been working with state officials since then, in hopes they would reconsider the decision.

"I am pleased with MDE staff's response and commitment to reconsidering Duluth's status," said William Howes, coordinator of education equity for the district and the person who writes and submits the plan, which will now go through the approval phase by the state.

The issue was related to a formula change which would have affected all school districts in Minnesota that receive that kind of funding. It was unclear Thursday why Duluth is now considered eligible to continue receiving the money.

Duluth has a long history of receiving the money, having "racially identifiable" schools in the former Nettleton and Grant elementaries, and now Myers-Wilkins Elementary. The label means a school has a higher percentage of students of color compared to the combined total of other district schools with the same age groups. This past school year, 53 percent of Myers-Wilkins students were students of color.

The money pays for a dozen integration specialists who work with at-risk kids on behavior, attendance and grades; the position of Howes and a diversity coordinator; reading intervention positions at Myers-Wilkins and Lowell elementary schools; professional development; and transportation between Lowell and Myers-Wilkins so students who live within boundaries of each can attend the other school as part of integration efforts.