Could Changing Minnesota’s Constitution Help Combat The Achievement Gap

Justice Alan Page and Minneapolis Fed Chair Neel Kashkari are proposing to change the state’s constitution in order to combat the achievement gap, but not everyone’s on board.

Research by the Fed found Minnesota has one of the worst disparities in the nation affecting all races especially along socioeconomic lines. They’re calling for an amendment they say will empower kids and parents, changing the language in the 1857 document from this:

UNIFORM SYSTEM OF PUBLIC SCHOOLS. The stability of a republican form of government depending mainly upon the intelligence of the people, it is the duty of the legislature to establish a general and uniform system of public schools. The legislature shall make such provisions by taxation or otherwise as will secure a thorough and efficient system of public schools throughout the state.

To this:

EQUAL RIGHT TO QUALITY PUBLIC EDUCATION. All children have a fundamental right to a quality public education that fully prepares them with the skills necessary for participation in the economy, our democracy, and society, as measured against uniform achievement standards set forth by the state. It is the paramount duty of the state to ensure quality public schools that fulfill this fundamental right.

“When you think about a new civil right, think about the right to vote, the right to free speech,” Kashkari said. “This is enshrining the right to a quality education in the state’s constitution in the same breath.”
“I have grandchildren, and I want them to grow up in a world where all children — them and every other child — have the opportunity to fulfill themselves and to reach their fullest potential and I think this proposed amendment gives them that opportunity,” Page said.

The proposal needs a sponsor in both legislative chambers and majority vote to be added to the ballot. Attorney General Keith Ellison the CEOs of Ecolab, SPS Commerce and General Mills, as well as multiple community and educational organizations like the Ciresi Walburn Foundation for Children, Cansa’yapi, Lower Sioux Indian Community, and Northside Achievement Zone are among those in support.

However, the state teachers’ union, Education Minnesota, spoke out strongly against it Tuesday with a statement, and a thread of tweets from president Denise Specht.

Page says he’s heard from some lawmakers worried it could lead to frivolous litigation, or that it will only benefit the wealthy with access to the legal system. Kashkari, who cited stories of progress in Louisiana and Florida which changed their constitutions, refuted the state teachers union’s claims that it would create inequitable funding for public schools or that not all families could take advantage of the opportunity.

“That is literally the exact opposite of what this amendment does,” Kashkari said. “This amendment makes education a paramount duty of the state. That means there is no higher responsibility that the state has than making sure kids are getting a quality education in quality schools.”

“The idea that low-income families wouldn’t be able to utilize this right, I find it offensive,” Kashkari said. “If one family brings a suit on behalf of their child, that one action can lead to benefits for all families.”