With supporters including lawmakers from both parties, this issue has the potential to transcend party politics.
Minnesota has long had one of the largest achievement gaps in the nation, with education outcomes for children of color, American Indian children and low-income white children lagging far behind children from higher-income families.
Workforce issues rank at the top of many CEO’s concerns. Business leaders are troubled by the apparent ineffectiveness of education for too many of their future workers, especially regarding the basic skills of reading, writing and otherwise communicating.
The “social adaptability” of high school and technical school graduates is also an emerging concern. CEOs report that many companies are realizing that establishing a more reasonable expectation for young people entering the workforce is necessary, including offering suitable training programs early in an employee’s career.
Debra Benton, a 30-year executive coach and author of the book “The Leadership Mind Switch,” asserts that successful employees need an intellectual curiosity or “a willingness to ask questions and not mistakenly think it may show a lack of knowledge.”
Former Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Alan Page and Neel Kashkari, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, have proposed a state constitutional amendment that, they say, could help eliminate academic disparities based on race and income level — a tall order, no doubt.
Kashkari and Page initially connected last fall to discuss what to do about education. The two agreed that the gaps had to be addressed as too many children are unable to fully participate in the state’s economy.
Current language in the state Constitution, adopted in 1858, recognizes that a republican form of government depends on “the intelligence of the people,” and that it is “the duty of the legislature to establish a general uniform system of public schools.”
Kashkari and Page have proposed a revision that declares “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.”
The differences between the versions are significant, they said, in that the original version refers to a “general uniform system of public schools” while the proposed version asserts that children, including pre-kindergarteners, have their rights and can call on the state — executive, legislative and judicial branches — to fulfill this right.
Another distinction between the new proposal and what exists today is that “quality education” would expand to those who are younger than age 5, and strengthen the role of parents to engage the state, of which school districts are a part, into guaranteeing their youngsters’ civil rights.
Page emphasizes that placing “power in the hands of families” would give greater legal standing to bring about necessary change.
To get the new amendment on the ballot, majorities in the 67-member Minnesota Senate and 134-member Minnesota House would have to approve it; Gov. Tim Walz’s signature is not required.
In late February, St. Paul DFLer Rep. Rena Moran introduced a bill (HF 3658) that updates the education clause, making a quality education a “civil right” for all Minnesota children and elevating it to a top priority for the state.
The co-signers on Moran’s bill include lawmakers from both parties, indicating that this issue has the potential to transcend party politics.
More than a few insiders have been reluctant, including Walz — who met with Page and Kashkari last week — and the House Speaker Melissa Hortman.
Education Minnesota, the teachers union, early on announced its opposition, suggesting its passage would generate greater interest in charter schools. Moran and others said that the idea is aimed at challenging the system — not teachers — by shifting decisionmaking to those most affected.
Some Capitol wags believe that the amendment, if ultimately passed by voters, may inspire counterproductive “fundamental right” lawsuits.
Support has come from House Republicans and their leader Kurt Daudt with GOP Senate Majority Paul Gazelka also warming to the idea. A group called Our Children MN led by Mike McFadden, a businessman and Republican nominee for U.S. Senate in 2014, is fully on board.
Three DFLers including former congressman and now Attorney General Keith Ellison, Mike Ciresi, a prominent Minneapolis lawyer and DFL candidate for U.S. Senate in 2008 and Rashad Turner — previously a leader of Black Lives Matter in St. Paul who now leads the “Minnesota Parent Union” — have each signed on as part of the Page/Kashkari team.
Amending a state’s constitution is more common than most Minnesotans realize. Over the past two decades, of the 312 proposed education amendments to state constitutions that made it to the ballot, 193 have passed. Minnesota’s education language, however, has remained untouched. Florida and Louisiana are two states that have found this education strategy most beneficial, said Kashkari, and the results have helped to reduce those states’ achievement gaps.
Minnesotans, especially employers, ought to be vigilant in examining how the Page-Kashkari constitutional amendment could help make education more effective for all of us into the future.
My hometown banker father, who was also a school board member, supported every school levy proposed and often said, in a tongue-in-cheek manner, that “an investment in knowledge pays the best interest.”
Chuck Slocum is president of the Williston Group, a management consulting firm; he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.