The whitelash behind Minneapolis’ plan to fire white teachers, explained

OPINION: While conservative media has characterized the Minneapolis teachers union’s agreement as an anti-white civil rights crisis, firing white educators is actually a step towards equity.

Minneapolis school teachers hold placards during the strike in front of the Justice Page Middle school in Minneapolis, Minnesota, United States on March 8, 2022. Photo by Kerem Yucel/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

The conservatives at Fox News called it “discrimination.” The neo-confederates at the Heritage Foundation said it “violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and the Equal Protection Clause.” A headline in the official digital outlet of white nationalism asks: “Aren’t We Better Than Minneapolis Teachers Union’s Fire Whites First’ Policy?”

They are referring to the newest issue in the white outrage industrial complex, a contract between Minneapolis Public Schools and the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers. The conservative media has latched on to the plan as yet another example of the rising oppression of Caucasian America. According to the collectively bargained agreement’s detractors, MPS will target white teachers for layoffs to solve for “past discrimination.”

Somehow people who lack critical thinking skills and seasoning experience can be beguiled into believing a contract that was collectively bargained by a majority-white coalition is “anti-white.” Perhaps they are willing to ignore the “past discrimination” part of the story. Maybe the outraged victims of this brand new act of reverse racism don’t care that this contract is 4 months old. However, there is a bigger issue with the conservative narrative that should be included in the current conversation.

Firing white teachers is actually a great idea.

Allow me to explain. 

First of all, why are teachers being laid off? Don’t we need more teachers?

Well, aside from the idea that most people believe we need more teachers, the American education system also has a longstanding policy that we should pay teachers. And, because most teachers prefer to be paid with money, a lack of school funding prevents Minneapolis Public Schools from paying all of its teachers. 

Why can’t MPS afford to pay its teachers?

School funding is typically predicated on the number of students enrolled. While the average school spends $13,494 per student, Minneapolis Public Schools spends $21,656, according to the National Education for Education Statistics. But MPS has one of the highest declines in enrollment in the country. And because most unions make it very difficult to fire workers, the number of teachers stayed the same while the amount of money that paid teacher salaries decreased. The shortfall necessitated low salaries, budget cuts and school closures. It got so bad that MPS had an $86 million budget deficit and was expected to become insolvent by 2024.

Minneapolis school teachers hold placards during the strike in front of the Justice Page Middle school in Minneapolis, Minnesota, United States on March 8, 2022. (Photo by Kerem Yucel/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

The Minneapolis Federation of Teachers says that the district has more than enough money in its reserves to solve the problem. However, the district says that its rules won’t allow the district to tap into those reserves. So, in March 2022, the teachers’ union went on strike for three weeks. The district couldn’t just close schools, so they had to pay more teachers, which reportedly exacerbated the district’s dire financial situation

When MPS received $175 million in federal COVID relief funds, the teachers union assumed the budget problem was fixed. But the district used most of the COVID funds to defray the costs incurred by the strike. 

On March 25, the two sides reached a tentative agreement that included layoffs for excess teachers while providing “protections for educators of color.” In essence, teachers will be laid off in order of seniority unless they are protected by the provisions that include (among other things):

  1. Educators in “racially isolated schools with the greatest concentrations of poverty.”
  2. Members of underrepresented populations among the district’s licensed teachers.
  3. Alumni of HBCUs, tribal colleges, or Hispanic Association of Colleges and University programs.

That seems like the definition of reverse racism. Why would they agree to that?

Well, first you need to know a few hard facts:

  • According to almost every study, Black and nonwhite students have better educational, emotional and behavioral outcomes in classrooms with same-race teachers.
  • In Minneapolis public schools, Black and Hispanic students are more likely to be disciplined and less likely to graduate. Fewer than 1-in-10 passed the state math test and only one in five can read at grade level. 
  • Minneapolis Public School students are 37 percent white, 34 percent Black and 17 percent Hispanic
  • The staff of MPS is 66 percent white, 17.9 percent Black and 6.4 percent Hispanic. 
  • The district and the teachers union acknowledged “past discrimination by the district disproportionately impacted the hiring of underrepresented teachers in the district, as compared to the relevant labor market and the community, and resulted in a lack of diversity of teachers.”

As you can see, for most of its existence, the district’s hiring policy not only favored white teachers, but it did so to the detriment of its non-white students. But, for some reason, Fox News pundits and right-wing propagandists don’t seem interested in this part of the story. 

OK, maybe the teachers discriminated in the past. But going forward, shouldn’t they just fire the worst teachers?

That’s a great point that most people wouldn’t argue with. Now here’s a question:

Why do you assume the white teachers aren’t the worst teachers?

Most of MPS’s students are non-white. Most of its teachers are white. According to the district’s own data, most of the non-white students are lagging behind white students. And, according to people who know things, students of color do better when they are taught by educators of color. So, I’m not assuming that the white teachers are the worst teachers; I am assuming that most of the teachers are less equipped to teach most of the students. 

If you are going to fire the teachers, why not use fact-based, peer-reviewed information?

There is no segment in the entirety of the American social construct where ignoring factual information is regarded as wrong. Using racial data seems to be OK when it doesn’t affect people who like guitar solos. Black people are more likely to be arrested for illegal drugs even though white people are more likely to use and distribute them. The US Supreme Court said racial profiling is constitutional and agreed that law enforcement officers can ask Spanish speakers to show their immigration papers. But when it comes to whiteness, it must be protected. 

Will this make the Minneapolis Public Schools better? 

Maybe.

But what could possibly be worse than the majority of MPS students not being proficient in math and reading? What’s financially worse than total insolvency? What’s less equitable than total financial, educational and inequality? Minneapolis Public Schools are terrible schools and they don’t serve the public. 

The school district is essentially Donald Trump–racist, bloated and bad at business. 

But you said firing white teachers will make the schools more equitable.

Yes, it will.

According to Black teachers in the district, their concerns have largely been ignored by the teachers union and the school board until recently. Therefore, implementing a seniority-based layoff plan would result in a whiter education system because Black teachers would be the first to go. 

To become more equitable for its students, the cohort of teachers must be more diverse. To become financially solvent, the district must cut staff. The only path to better schools, more educated children and a financially stable district is to fire white teachers. 

Minneapolis teachers on strike rally at the capitol for lawmakers to put some of the state’s projected $9.3 billion budget surplus toward education funding, a living wage and safe stable schools. (Photo by: Michael Siluk/UCG/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

It’s also important to note that Minneapolis is nearly 63 percent white. And because K-12 education is closely related to future earnings, college acceptance and crime, the city’s non-white taxpayers are essentially funding an education system for white people. They are giving their tax dollars to improve educational outcomes and increase the generational wealth of white people. 

And this concept does not just apply to Minneapolis Public Schools; it’s actually how the world work. To achieve equity, someone must suffer. If a company with a fixed profit margin is underpaying its Black employees, they can’t just fix it by pulling money out of thin air and giving it to the Black workers; someone has to take a pay cut. 

Anyone who advocates for economic equity must also advocate for the redistribution of resources. That’s how diversity, equity and inclusion work. Not only does it create a more stable environment for everyone, but it actually creates a more realistic world for the people who previously benefitted from the inequality the people. Who wants to live in a world filled with mediocre people who are bad at their job?

Unless, of course, you’re white in Minneapolis. 


Michael Harriot is a writer, cultural critic and championship-level Spades player. His book, Black AF History: The Unwhitewashed Story of America, will be released in 2022.

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