Guest Opinion: A Modest Proposal: Education As An Equalizer

Education is an equalizer. Children, no matter their socio-economic status, race, or background, when educated, can leverage opportunities never imagined. Education is critical to reducing racial disparities, income gaps, fostering entrepreneurial endeavors, innovations, medical solutions, building a future workforce, and so much more. Achieving the American dream begins with an education, and all children should have the right to receive a quality education.

Yet, it is not very promising when only 55% of our third-graders can read at grade level, continuing a downward trend since at least 2015. Nor is it very promising when only 45% of our high school juniors are proficient in math, yet we graduate 83% of our high school seniors.

Some of our children in Minnesota are obtaining an average or even great education, but not all of our children. Many of our children are failing and thus almost ensuring a lifelong path of poverty, underachievement, and bouts with the criminal justice system. Now is the time for bold reform.

On Monday, Jan. 13, 2020, at the Federal Reserve Bank in Minneapolis, Neel Kashkari, President of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, and Alan Page, retired Minnesota Supreme Court Justice, presented their proposed education amendment to the Minnesota Constitution.

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 a uniform achievement standards set forth by the state. It is a paramount duty of the state to ensure quality public schools that fulfill this fundamental right.

This amendment enshrines the right to deliver a quality education to all children, measured against a uniform achievement standard set by the state. Without high academic standards and stringent standards and measurement there can be no productive path forward. As a state, when we invest in education, it is imperative that we have demonstrated measurable outcomes.

Over the last several years and despite significant financial investment from hard-working taxpayers, the children in Minnesota have experienced a constant decline in student achievement in both reading and math. Since 2015, the percentage of students rated proficient in math has dropped 8%, and third-grade reading proficiency has dropped 7%.

It is accepted that an achievement gap exists in Minnesota. According to the research conducted by the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, “. . . only 37 percent of low-income Minnesota students of all races are proficient in math and reading” and “only 25 percent of African American students are college ready”. This gap in achievement has not improved in the last couple decades. In fact, it has widened.

Moreover, these children being left behind by our educational system will not wait idly by on the sidelines of our economy. These children represent the next generation of families, employees and entrepreneurs. Our state is fully in the grasp of a workforce shortage and our communities, companies and economy is hindered by a scarce workforce. If we continue to spend billions of dollars on our education system without improving the education quality, we are cannibalizing an already thin workforce. Minnesota’s future cannot afford to ignore this achievement gap.
Another perspective to consider is the high number of children in foster care and out-of-home placement. If we do not hold the state accountable for educating our children and reducing the achievement gap, we stand no chance of breaking the generational cycles of abuse, neglect and maltreatment. How many stories have you heard, maybe in your own life, of people who have broken free from generational despair through education?

Kashkari and Page have introduced a conversation, backed with solid research and a bold solution. This proposal has already drawn the criticism of individuals and groups, such as Education Minnesota, who seek to protect the status quo and the adults who manage the existing system. This is not the time to protect failure. Now is the time to apply data, analysis and a catalyst spirit to a nagging, persistent achievement gap that needs to disappear.

In conclusion, it is impossible to predict the implications of this reform and it is too early to agree on the exact language. But, we have historical data to suggest our educational investment has not yielded equal results across all socio-economic and racial segments. This proposed amendment introduces a conversation about the individual right to education for all children and the need to implement a uniform set of standards and measurement. This proposal requires legislators to set aside partisan differences and examine the right policy to educate our children. We know what hasn’t worked.

Let’s take the lead from Kashkari and Page and reimagine the state’s obligation to education.

Kresha, R-Little Falls, represents District 9B in the Minnesota House of Representatives