Hmong Students Lobby Dayton to Keep Busing Program

Created: 12/28/2012 10:52 PM KSTP.com By: Mark Saxenmeyer

Some Minneapolis Hmong students have launched an unusual campaign to get Governor Mark Dayton's attention.

They're scared of losing the buses that enable them to attend suburban schools.

Mail carriers are delivering hundreds of postcards to the governor's residence, urging him to keep funding for the "Choice is Yours" transportation program.

Hmong residents make up about 15 percent of north Minneapolis, and without this program most would attend either Henry or North High Schools.

But the vast majority doesn’t--they take buses to Wayzata and Hopkins in search of what they say is a much better education.

And there's concern growing that that option may soon be phased out. Case in point: the Yang Family.

These days, when 15-year-old Chou Yang studies, alongside his younger brother Ser, and his older brother Hue, he feels like he's really learning something. That wasn't the case when he first arrived in the U.S. in the mid 2000s, from a refugee camp in Thailand.

Explained, Chou, “The Hmong people were put together, so we didn't have a chance to actually speak the American language.”

And there were other problems in the Minneapolis School District.

Hue said, “Kids were bullying people.”

So the boys' parents took advantage of the “Choice is Yours” program that allows about 2,000 lower-income kids to attend school elsewhere.

“They have to learn English and to push themselves,” said Pot Yang, the boys’ father.

A state-funded bus picks them up just blocks from their house and drives them 15 minutes to Hopkins.

“You feel like you have more opportunity there,” Hue said.

A recent study by the University of Minnesota seems to confirm that. Heidi Barajas, the executive director of Urban Research and Outreach Engagement, said, “What I saw was not only them feeling that they were successful, but that they WERE successful.”

But there's growing concern that funding for these types of desegregation efforts could be in jeopardy next year. “There's been talk for some time,” Barajas confirmed.

And if the plug is pulled on “Choice is Yours”, the Yang brothers would have to return to Minneapolis schools.

“I don't want to go back,” Ser said.

And so they, and hundreds of other Hmong students have started a postcard campaign to keep the "Choice is Yours" busing program alive. They still hope to meet with Governor Dayton to lobby in person.

According to Jay Clark of the U of M’s Minnesota Center for Neighborhood Organizing, “Even without the meeting if he's seeing these postcards he's still getting an idea of how much they value the education and please continue.”

A spokesperson for Governor Dayton, who's recovering from back surgery, says she's unaware if he's received any of the postcards yet.

The state department of education didn't get back to 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS Friday with word about how this program might fare in 2013, or the projected cost, if it survives.

It was also on the chopping block two years ago.

The governor will be announcing his budget proposals on Jan. 22.

Mark Saxenmeyer can be reached at msaxenmeyer@kstp.com