CN: Carla Nelson
JH: Jeff Howe
NK: Neel Kashkari
AP: Justice Alan Page
CJ: Carlton Jenkins
PA: Paul Anderson
RC: Roger Chamberlain
TR: Torres Ray
KH: Karin Housley
CW: Charles Wiger
SF: Steve Ford
MD: Mike Donnelly
KK: Katherine Kersten
FN: Fred Nolan
DW: David Watkins
CF: Cedrick Frasier
MQ: Miamon Queeglay
TM: Terry Morrow
GA: Gary Amoroso
SC: Steve Cwodzinski
JE: Justin Eichorn
JJ: John Jasinski
GC: Greg Clausen
M: Unidentified man
CN: Thank you so much. Members, the next item on our hearing is the constitutional amendment to presentations. You will see that we have a full hearing today. We’re going to stay on time, except I see we’re just a couple of minutes late here getting started. We will have, the strategy for today, the procedure for today will have 30 minutes for the presentation from the pro-constitutional amendment presentation. Then that will be followed by questions and then we will have 30 minutes of presentation from those who are opposed or have concerns about this proposed constitutional amendment followed up by questions. And so, I would ask that you hold your questions, members, to the end of the 30 minutes, either pro or con. If I could have the Department of Health make sure that the COVID-19 PowerPoint gets to members. It was not in my packet. So, let’s make sure members do have that. So, members, today we have the education constitutional amendment informational hearings today. And as we know, we have had an all-too-longstanding achievement gap. And so, we welcome all hands on deck. Everyone who is at the table ready to dig in and see what we can do to close this achievement gap. With that, we’ll open up with Senator Jeff Howe. Welcome to the Committee, Senator Howe.
JH: Thank you, Madam Chair and members. What we’re talking about is Senate File 3977.
CN: If you could just give your name for the tape, please.
JH: I’m Senator Jeff Howe, Senate District 13, which wraps around St. Cloud and Eastern Stearns County. Anything else I need to do to introduce myself?
CN: Senator Howe, that is fine. People who follow on the tape want to get your voice tied to your name, thank you.
JH: So, Senate File 3977 seeks to amend the education clause in our Minnesota Constitution. What the proposed amendment does, is it focuses on outputs instead of what our current constitution does, which focuses on inputs. I will acknowledge that there may be needed refinement in the proposed language, such as constitutional republic instead of using the word, democracy. We are looking forward to improving and strengthening the proposed language with constructive criticism and good debate. The amendment has no intention of interfering with a parent’s right to choice, to either choose homeschooling or attend a private school. The intent is to ensure that all children, anywhere in Minnesota can attend a public school and receive a quality education. Quality should be defined by the legislature, which it currently does, but currently, our constitution defines that as all you need is an adequate education. We will not tell local schools how to teach, but we will hold them accountable if our children do not know how to learn. There’s a handout in your packets, on a survey that was just conducted in the state of Minnesota. That survey shows that most Minnesotans agree that all children should have a right to a quality public education. So now, why am I involved? I come from a farm family of five children and our mom and dad only had an eighth grade education. So, chores were the priority of the day and neither parent could help us much with our homework. I graduated from high school probably number 44 out of a class of 46 and I didn’t know how to learn. I had a high school teacher pull me in a room and tell me I would never amount to anything more than a ditch digger. I took that to heart and have never forgotten it because it happened in front of my classmates. I was headed down the wrong path in life. I have lead foot and one night I ran from the state troopers and ended up with five traffic tickets. And I had a judge that changed my life. He threw me in jail for five days for one of those tickets. I knew from that experience that I would never do anything to ever go back to jail again. Then I went back to court for another ticket that I received that same night. And I plead guilty after my attorney said that the judge agreed to go easy on me. Well, what I learned from that is his definition of easy and my definition of easy was not the same. He sentenced me to another 30 days in the County Jail. Luckily, he suspended it on three conditions. One, I pay a fine; two, I join the Navy by February 1st and three, I didn’t drive anymore. Now, that wouldn’t happen today. Now the military will not take you if you’ve got a criminal background and not only that, what I did then, today, would be a felony and I’d be looking at prison instead of going to jail. Going into the Navy was another life changing experience. It taught me how I learned. After I got out of the Navy, I went to college because then I knew I could learn. I knew that I could succeed. It’s where I met my wife and the rest is history. But, that’s why we need to ensure that all children get a quality education. We’re losing too many children. We need to light that spark of imagination that is in every child and turn that into a burning desire to learn and we don’t have that today. Serving in the legislature has been the greatest learning opportunity of my life. I learned so much about things that I would normally not care about, but since it affects the people in my district in this state, I do care and I learn about it. I’m carrying this legislation so that every child has the same opportunity that I have had and maybe, just maybe, they can end up in this very seat instead of prison. I’ll be followed by President Kashkari.
CN: Senator Howe, President Kashkari, welcome back to the committee. Introduce yourself for the record, please.
NK: Thank you, Madam Chair. My name is Neel Kashkari. I’m President and CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. I want to thank you for the opportunity for us to present our ideas in this committee, thank all of the committee members for hearing us and I also want to thank you all for your service on education. You were all on the Education Committee because you care about the children of Minnesota and we really appreciate your leadership and your ideas. I also want to acknowledge a few other people. Of course, I’m going to turn to Justice Page in a few moments, Dr. Jenkins, Superintendent of the Robbinsdale School District will be speaking with us today. Thank you, Dr. Jenkins. We also have a number of families here from Minnesota Parent Union. Thank you, families, for being here and again, thank you to the Chair and the Committee for hearing us.
I have some slides, which I’ll go through fairly quickly. Just on this first slide is what the proposed amendment is. We’ll come back to this on what the actual language is and talk about it if it’s OK with the Chair. Why are we proposing a constitutional amendment? In our view, the teachers haven’t failed, the children haven’t failed, even the individual legislators haven’t failed. It is our system, our political system has failed our children. For decades, leaders from both parties have been focused on the achievement gap in good faith, really trying to make a difference, but if we’re being honest with each other and we look at the data, we’ve made literally zero progress in closing these gaps. Why have we failed? In our view, politics has gotten in the way. Folks from one party have a certain set of solutions that they prefer. Folks from another party have a different set of solutions, they don’t agree and we’re stuck with the status quo. If you look around the country, other states are making progress. This problem is not impossible and we can learn from the success that other states have had to show what should be possible here in Minnesota. We believe creating an individual civil right to a quality public education can drive real change and break through the political gridlock that has paralyzed us so far.
Now, let me give you an example. Some legislators have said to us, well, this is our job in the legislature to craft education policy. We’re nervous about an amendment such as this because maybe it would take power away from the legislature. And I would respectfully say, there are examples of legislatures recognizing that there’s certain issues that they’ve struggled to tackle. The example I have on the screen is, the BRAC Commission. After the Cold War, the US military needed to downsize the number of bases, but members of Congress in Washington knew they couldn’t make the decisions because each member of Congress had to look out for his or her own district. So, they recognized that and they created a bipartisan commission to make a series of recommendations that ultimately did make decisions by putting the country in front of politics. And so, that’s just an example of, it’s not education, but is an example of a legislature recognizing their own limitations and saying we need to do something bigger and this worked.
Now, let me just jump to an example that progress is possible. Some people say to us, we need to first solve poverty; we need to first solve housing; we need to first solve food insecurity. Those are all really important issues, but we also need to make sure kids are getting a quality education. And so, this chart, the orange bars are Florida. On the left, national ranking for fourth grade reading scores, Florida was 33rd in 2003; Minnesota was 12th. In the ensuing 15 years or so, Florida is now 6th; Minnesota is still 12th. That’s remarkable progress in about 15 years. On the right are test score gaps, low income kids versus well-to-do kids. Florida was 30th, Minnesota was 34th. In the ensuing 15 years, Florida is now sixth and Minnesota is 35th. So, we’ve gone down one spot, they’ve climbed up 24 spaces. We are not advocating just saying, do what Florida did. We’re using this as an example that success is absolutely possible if we have the political will to drive change and to put children first.
So, let’s just turn to education clauses and state constitutions. The US Constitution is silent on education. All 50 state constitutions have some language. There’s wide variation. The Minnesota constitutional language was written literally in 1857, when slavery was still allowed in the United States and just as a reminder, when women did not have the right to vote. It was intended, if we go back and read the history, it was intended to educate the children of white landowners. And that’s the system that was built and no one today believes that that’s where our focus should be; none of you do, we certainly don’t, but it strikes me that our education system today is mirroring the goals that were set in 1857. It is working for our well-to-do children; it is not working for low-income kids and it is not working for children of color and I don’t think that’s a coincidence. If you look around the country, there have been over 300 education amendment proposed on state ballots nationwide in the last 30 years and if you look at the state map, zero in Minnesota. So, many states have gone to the effort of updating their constitutions. We are a laggard, we are an outlier in having not done this. So, what we are proposing is not revolutionary. It’s literally been done in most of the rest of the country.
So, what would our proposed amendment do? It would create an individual civil right for a quality public education for every Minnesota child. This would put power in the hands of families; that is fundamental. Instead of focusing on the system, focus on families and give families power. It literally puts children first in the eyes of the law, it raises the standard, as the Senator said, from adequate to quality and it holds the state accountable. We think that this would be a real catalyst for driving change, policy change that would put children first and importantly, we have not specified what those policies should be. That, we believe is done by the legislature and by the families and by the teachers at the local level to decide what their children need in order to be successful.
Civil rights have led to transformation of our society over time. Think about the Bill of Rights, think about the debates when they debated the right to free speech, the freedom of religion. There were lots of debates. The amendment abolishing slavery. Civil rights have led to transformation of our society over time. We believe this amendment can lead to transformation of education in Minnesota over time.
So, what do the critics say? One criticism is this will open the door to vouchers and private schools. Couldn’t be further from the truth. It says “public” three times in the language in three sentences. And Attorney General Ellison also agrees, this is not about private schools or vouchers. Some people have said this will cut funding for public education. On the contrary, this would make public schools a paramount duty of the state, meaning no higher duty than ensuring quality public schools. If anything, it will lead to more funding, not less. Some have said this can only be used by rich families who can afford lawyers. That is simply not how civil rights have worked in America. Most landmark civil rights cases in American history and in Minnesota have been brought by a low-income family whose rights are being trampled. And that one case can lead to transformation for everybody. Just think about the right to free speech. I have never needed to go to court to defend my right to free speech and I bet you haven’t either because it’s in the Constitution and we all know we have that right and that’s what’s the power of the Constitution. You don’t need a lawyer to exercise your rights, but if someone tries to trample on your rights, you have that recourse. Others have said, this will lead to an onslaught of frivolous litigation. Again, many other states have amended their constitutions, it has not led to an onslaught of frivolous litigation in other states and if it leads to a case that drives positive change, that’s a good thing. Brown vs. Board of Education was a case that drove transformational change in our society. Some have said it’ll give judges too much power. I would just respectfully remind you that the Constitution created three co-equal branches of government. Empowering the legislature, we believe the legislature has a role to play, not the lead role, but it should have a role to play in making sure children’s rights are supported. And some have said, this creates a positive right. This does not create a positive right, the positive right already exists today in the current constitution. This just changes the standard from adequate to quality. The positive right, that ship has already sailed, it’s in the constitution today. So, I would ask what’s the alternative? Our critics have not offered a credible plan of their own to close these terrible gaps. Some have said, we just need billions of dollars of more funding. That’s it, just more money will close the gaps. The research is clear, just increasing funding without making other changes does not lead to better outcomes. So, just saying we need more money is not a credible plan to close the gaps. Others have said to us, some Republicans, I’ll be candid with you have said, we just need a Republican governor and a Republican Senate and a Republican House and then we’ll pass all the reforms that we want. And I say, OK, when is that going to happen? And how many kids are going to fall through the cracks while we’re waiting for a certain political alignment to happen? So, I would respectfully ask the committee, when you hear people saying, well we don’t like this about our plan, OK, what’s your plan? I don’t mean you, I mean to the other presenters. What’s their plan that can really move the needle over the next 10 or 20 years. Justice Page and I challenge each other, what could we do that could be transformational? This is the boldest idea we’ve come up with. So, last thing, we’re asking you to give the voters a chance. There’s nothing more democratic in our society than giving the voters a chance to speak their minds. By putting this on the ballot, you will give the voters a chance to say whether or not they want all children in Minnesota to have a civil right to a quality public education. We would urge you to trust the voters and give them that chance. So, than you, Madam Chair. With that, if it’s OK, I’ll turn it over to Justice Page.
AP: Madam Chair, my name is Alan Page, retired Justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court. Why am I here? For me, this is an issue of justice, social justice, economic justice. Education as you know, is the great equalizer, yet for many of our children, it is anything but equal. And the current constitutional provision, Article 13 Section 1, has brought us to this point. There have been over the past number of years, any number of good faith efforts on the part of people who have the interest of children at heart, with results that are going in the wrong direction. And from my vantage point, what I see is a system and a constitutional provision that focuses solely on the system and not on children and our proposal is to put children first by creating a constitutional right that would allow all children to succeed. We think it would be a catalyst to interrupt the political logjam, but beyond that, it would be a catalyst to bring people together to focus on the individual child. And I think the focus on the system invariably turns to a discussion of resources. We don’t talk about the delivery of those resources very often or at least it’s not the first thing that comes to mind and we lose sight of the fact that this is all about children. One of the questions that comes up is, in our provision, has to do with what’s the standard? What do we mean by a quality education? Well, the standard is, a quality education which fully prepares children with the skills necessary to participate. That’s the standard. Not to be confused with that piece of our proposal which talks about how we measure whether children are meeting that standard. That’s something entirely different. And today, we seem to focus a great deal on the measurement piece and not so much on how we get children to meet the standard and I think one of the things that we hope would come out of this is that shift from the sole focus on the system and inputs to children and outcomes who create dramatic results. I know one of the concerns that is raised and you’ll be hearing about today is the impact that our provision might have on homeschooling. I don’t see in the language, anything that changes that from what’s in Article 13. As I understand the system, really that’s a statutory question, not a constitutional question. And right now, we have compulsory education, as I understand it. I don’t know which provision of the statute it falls under, but nothing in Article 13 as it exists today or Article 13, the amendment as we propose it, would change any of that. And there are a number of questions that get raised and I would just point out that I happen to be one who in my personal philosophy, but also my judicial philosophy, when you interpret language, you give words their ordinary and common meanings and we have the concern raised about vouchers, given the words in our proposed amendment, doesn’t encourage vouchers, doesn’t do anything but make sure that quality public education in quality public schools, the right to it is ensured by making it a paramount duty. And I would just say, I’m a child of the 1950s. I was 8 years old when Brown vs. the Board of Education was decided and I’ve seen the power of the law. It’s what inspired me to become a lawyer, ultimately, gave me the opportunity to serve on our court. And I would not be so concerned about the role of the judiciary in all of this. It is a separate and distinct grant through government with a role to play to ensure people’s rights, but you have a role to play there too. Indeed, you have the role in the first instance.
CN: I thank you, Justice Page. I believe we have one more presentation, Dr. Jenkins. Welcome to the Committee. Please introduce yourself for the record. And as you know, speak right into the mic.
CJ: Yes, thank you so much, Chair and other members of the Committee. I am so pleased to be here today to speak on behalf of support for this proposed amendment. Before I begin, let me just tell you I’m a 30 year educator, a public school educator and I have served in all capacities, from a custodian to a teacher to an assistant principal, principal, executive director, chief academic offer and superintendent in multiple states. And so, being that I’m a public school educator, I proudly say that I will denounce anything that comes up against public education because I believe that this is the goodwill of our country. So, when individuals speak about vouchers, I speak against that. Individuals bring any kind of threat to public education, I denounce it. So, this particular proposal, when I look at it, why would I support it? And having been in education for over 30 years, I look at this proposal as a vehicle for beginning the real conversation regarding those disparities that I’ve seen over my career, over and over, no matter how many hours I continue to put in, at the end of 30 years, I’m looking now at outcomes and the disparity is not just here in Minnesota, being a second now, highest worst in the nation, but the nation as a whole, we have some real challenges. When you start looking at white middle-class children and their peers of low socioeconomic status, be it African American, Latin, [00:58:06???] students who are Asian, students who have ELL, American Indian, it’s a problem. It’s a real problem and we have to look at it like that and people often speak in disparities and we say white students and their peers. Well, it’s not just about white students. We have some white middle class children. The data says now, one-third in the nation of white middle class students are not reading at proficient levels. For the first time, Minnesota has fallen behind the nation in terms of reading for eighth grade. We have to do something. This is where I’m proposing that we follow and support this particular amendment. So, when I look at the fact, in a way we fund public schools, in the outcomes that we see, they are directly related to the silence of the Constitution on a federal level and then here in our state of Minnesota, the way that we fund our institutions is fundamentally flawed. I said this two years ago when I came down to testify and I still see this today and I hear some of my colleagues, they’re talking about the situation and some attorneys I’ve talked to, people are anxious about this amendment and the legal battles that may come up. Well, had we not had legal battles over the years, I sit here as my grandmother’s mother was a slave. So, you have to think about this. My mother couldn’t vote until she was 25. This constitution was put in place in 1857. At that time, none of my family members would have been able to participate in the conversation. So, we’re having progress just by me even being here talking to you today. So, I ask you to look at this amendment and think about Brown vs. Board of Education. Had it not sufficed, we would not be here today. Brown vs. the Board of Education 1954, I was born in 1965. And that opened the doors to me when I entered into elementary school. It was still segregated because I’m from Alabama and we did not integrate schools until 1972. So, but, it is the legal discussion we must be willing to have. It must, just the discussion itself, we can prevent some of the legalities, but we cannot be afraid of that. So, I say to you also, Green vs. the Kent County School District, they laid out six conditions: student assignment, faculty assignment, staff assignment, facilities, co-curriculars and transportation. We have not lived up to the Green conditions to the state, not only in this state, but across the country. This amendment gives us an opportunity to go in and address some of these things and I believe this. We’re making decisions between what is right and what is right. Do we actually retain teachers who are highly needed or do we make other decisions in our district? This is not right. This is a human decency issue. This isn’t just a racial issue, even though race is definitely a part of it and we can’t run from that. Let’s not be held hostage by that. Let’s look at how we can move forward and I think the bipartisan support is needed in a situation like this for our children. So, in closing, I’m just saying that we should, as a group of human beings, to just entertain the conversation for how we can do better and not live with the current outcomes that we have. It is really disheartening for me as an educator at the end of 30 years and I can, by the way, retire today. I’m OK with that, but I feel like I have not done what I set out to do in having a transformational impact on our nation’s children. You can do it. We can do it if we just start a conversation. Thank you.
CN: Thank you, Superintendent. Senator Anderson.
PA: Thank you, Madam Chair and Superintendent Jenkins and President Kashkari and Justice Page and Senator Howe. Thank you for bringing this forward and talking about it. We simply wouldn’t be here, literally wouldn’t be here today taking about this issue would it not be for the report, with it not be for Justice Page, your lifetime work in education and for the kids. This issue, Madam Chair and members and we’ve got a packed audience here on a Friday morning, to talk about the achievement gap. This is an issue that we should be talking about all the time. So, I just want to thank you for that because what’s been consistently said by members on this particular issue, the amendment, has been that we need a conversation on this. We need a robust conversation and you have delivered that. The report identifies decades of terrible results, awful results for the children and students of Minnesota. And I’ve had the pleasure of working with Superintendent Jenkins on many issues. I know this is an issue that means a great deal to you, so I want to thank you for bringing this conversation together because this is a issue that has brought some really strange bedfellows on both sides of the issue. I don’t know in 25 years of working in and around government and politics, I’ve ever seen anything like this, but it goes to the depths of how people care about this and now how we get to the root of that. I mean, you understand, as passionate as we are about public education and the importance of education, you also have a bunch of homeschool families here that are concerned, what does this mean to them and what it means to their path forward. And again, those are important questions to identify and talk about. But, you talked about and the report talks about this and consistently you have talked about the importance of putting students and kids first in the outcomes. So, I don’t’ know, in a few comments we’re addressing this, but can you talk about why it’s so important to focus on students first and those outcomes instead of inputs in systems?
CN: Justice Page.
AP: Madam Chair, members of the Committee, the purpose of education is to educate children and if that’s not number one and focusing on how we educate individual children, what’s the point, why are we here? It seems to me that the system, obviously we have to have a system to do that. That’s important. Resources for that system are important, but the system isn’t what it’s all about. It’s about children, it’s about the future. Every child that gets left behind, those children who are falling behind, they’re a lost employee, a lost customer, certainly a diminished customer at a minimum and a loss to the diminished taxpayer, not to mention the burden of that loss that is placed on the rest of society. And so, if we can’t focus on children as well as the system in a way that gives children the best chance to reach their full potential, then I’m not sure why we’re here.
CN: I think Senator Chamberlain is next…excuse me, I think Superintendent Jenkins might have wanted to add to that, so Representative Jenkins.
CJ: Yes. Thank you again. I think what the justice said and from a practical, from an educator’s standpoint of looking at the children and we all like to say children, but what’s the reality behind that? We set our budgets in our states and at the federal level, we see the federal government still hasn’t stepped up to participate in education at their level. They are doing right now roughly about 6-7%. And then we look at the state and how we go about managing the budgets, I say it’s fundamentally flawed. Anything I say, feel free to ask me about it what I mean. What I mean is that we fund everything else and then we come to education and I don’t believe just throwing money at it is going to be the answer, but I think when you’re asking us to retain great teachers, great employees, there is a cost to that and every time we don’t, districts are forced to make decisions around, do we keep the high quality teachers or do we make other decisions? Our children are impacted by the instability of us having to make some of those decisions and the decisions aren’t just about just having just teachers, it’s about providing the appropriate environment so we can have maximum outcome. So, then you have to think about the whole child. This issue around trauma is real across the nation. Our children with adverse childhood experiences, we have teachers, no matter what we pay them, if we don’t train them correctly, they are not prepared to deal with some of the issues that we’re seeing in the schools. It’s not just teachers, principals are not, superintendents are not, the boards in our community. That’s going to be a big cost for us if we don’t start funding education appropriately, it’s going to cost us more in the end in terms of housing, health and also in our judicial system.
CN: Thank you, Senator…or Superintendent. It’s good to hear from our readers. I think Senator Chamberlain was next.
RC: Thank you, Madam Chair, thank you for having the discussion. Madam Chair, would you prefer we wait for questions till we’re done or would you…
CN: Just to reiterate our game plan, I can see we’re off of it by just a bit, we had all of the testifiers who were testifying in favor of the constitutional amendment. Now is the time for members to ask questions or comments of these testifiers. They will be followed by a half hour of testimony from those who are opposed and then we will have questions for them. Senator Chamberlain.
RC: Thank you, Madam Chair. Gentlemen, there are certainly things I agree with and all of us up here agree with. I do take a little bit of…I guess I’ll just leave it at that because people around this table and in this room and beyond the walls here, do take the education of our children seriously and have for a long time. Believe me, it’s not easy sitting up here day after day, dealing with this issue. So, I submit that to all of you every day and then there’s educators every day. We do this less than educators do, but a lot of folks on this panel are educators. We understand it’s frustrating. We understand the challenges and we don’t get it right all the time, but it’s been my experience and while I’m not an attorney or an esteemed judge, it’s been my experience and my research in my tenure paying my penance up here and listening to people and visiting schools, that this constitutional amendment will not work. It’s not the answer to our problems. When we met in the office and when I met with Mr. Turner, who I call a friend and others, I asked, why not do this other alternative? Because there are alternatives out there that will work. We have proposals this year that if we infused a few bucks, will change a whole dynamic and end the achievement gap. So, there are solutions that are less dramatic than this. This is frankly, we’re taking a meat cleaver to this thing and we’re saying that this is somehow going to solve the problem. Now, you claim in your statement that this will not turn the system over to the courts, but yet in your comments, you continue to reference court cases. Now, a lot of those court cases were very good and the outcomes were incredibly positive and needed, but you cannot claim that this will not turn the system over to the courts when you claim in your arguments and you rely on court cases that it changed the system. Now, this system is still subject to suit and we know that because we can look to the [01:11:43???] just looking at some court cases. The system can be taken to court. It is now. We know that Cruz-Guzman is out there. So, the point is, I agree with a lot of the stuff you said and I think everybody up here would, but the constitutional amendment is a sledgehammer when we need some delicate operations here. This will not empower educators, it will not empower parents. It will empower the courts and it will enrich attorneys. That is what this will do. I have a California court case that everybody should be aware of. An organization just sued for $53 million and the court said, yes, you’ve got to get this $53 million to these schools. The Constitution, in part, I was looking it up, it said that the constitutional mandate in California is for an equal education for all students, similar language that we have here, which we all can agree with, when you put that in the Constitution and statute, those words mean things. Another quote, suing the state is more effective than suing individual districts. And it goes on. So, my concern is that we’re not going to solve a problem that is often the case after Supreme Court, whether it’s the state of federal, more questions are raised than questions answered. Words mean things and that’s why you put it in there as such. I know you’re trying to find a good solution for our situation here in this state, but members, gentlemen, audience, we share your concerns, but this will not do it. These words will mean things, attorneys will get them and the courts will run the system and there are easier ways to go about this. So, I thank you for your time and your efforts, but I find this extremely troubling and dangerous for our state. If you look up the California case, one more quote here about how often this will do. I wouldn’t be surprised if other suits in other states follow. Another researcher, they found problems in classroom instruction, discipline and a variety of other things, of adequate intervention for struggling students. Again, the third issue, you claim that money isn’t the answer, but I believe I heard in your statements while I was looking at some stuff here, that you wanted more money. So, there are a lot of complex problems here and it cannot be solved by the courts. It cannot be solved by six or nine or seven esteemed judges and scholars sitting behind a bench. So, I’ve taken too much time and I’ll concede everything else, but thank you for the time, thank you for your efforts. We appreciate the discussion, but I have to be on record. I cannot see this working for our kids and solving the problems. It simply cannot. So, thank you again.
CN: Thank you, Senator Chamberlain. Senator Torres Ray.
M1: Can I respond, Madam Chair?
CN: No, I’m sorry. We’re in the comment period. We’ve had the 30 minutes of testimony, but you are welcome, please do send us your response and we will make sure that every member gets that. Please do. Senator Torres Ray.
TR: Thank you, Madam Chair. For me, more than a comment, I would like to put a statement out that is incredibly important to me and to many of my constituents who have asked this question. The fundamental premise that we are here because we believe that we need to do better by our children in providing the resources and the infrastructure education that really respond to their needs, I think it’s shared by all members here. There is strong bipartisan support on that. I think we differ is how we go about it, where do we put resources, where do we start? And we have not been able to do this. I’ve been here for 14 years and we have differences of opinion about the process. And that brings me to the question of the language that is being proposed because the language that is being proposed addresses a fundamental shift in here that I don’t think we have had a chance to talk. So, Justice Page talks about how we need to move into a conversation about providing the resources and strong education and shifting the conversation on measurement. It’s interesting because this particular amendment actually does provide or strengthens the standards. It actually mentions that language in the amendment that you propose, which is proposed. So, there is a shift to actually put in place that language. It says in here, measure against uniform achievement standards set for by the state. So, that’s a fundamental shift and I want to talk about what that means in terms of resources, establishing standards and a really robust testing system that may or may not end up in the results that we are proposing. the other part that I am concerned about is that deleting the legislature’s ability to do taxation and provide the resources is problematic. That language kind of takes away our ability to provide these fundamental resource that is necessary to fund education. And so in here, it says, we have that in the original language, it says by taxation of otherwise, it will secure thorough and efficient system in public schools. I don’t see that language in the proposed amendment, so how do we do that? So, there are two key elements that I just feel that are missing. One is the significant focus on creating these achievement standards that will ultimately end up in testing and then shifting or taking away our ability to do taxation in order to fund it. So, I would like to hear more. I know, Madam Chair, I don’t know if there is an opportunity to get a response to that, but for me, those are kind of fundamental aspects of this change that I just want to hear more about.
CN: Thank you, Senator Torres Ray and I’m sure there will be some response from the testifiers. I do hope you give that to us. Senator Housley.
KH: Thank you, Madam Chair and I know we are running late here, so I will just make the comment quick. I want to thank you for coming and I agree with Senator Anderson. This is a conversation that we do need to continue to have and we do have to find some solutions and this again, brings it to the forefront so we can have these conversations. The achievement gap here in Minnesota is embarrassing and I know we have had some solutions that we are going to continue to work on and I think an equal right to a quality public education is a lofty goal. It is what we all want for our kids. I just don’t know if putting it into the Minnesota Constitution is where it should be. I’ve been getting many texts in the last three hours from a lot of homeschool families and charter school families who are really nervous about this. And I know we don’t have any time to respond, but I would like that clarified and we can maybe have a meeting or take this offline to see where that direction would go. But, thank you again. This is a great conversation that we’re having today.
CN: Senator Wiger.
CW: Yes, Madam Chair and I’ll be brief and you cut me off when you need to.
CN: OK, I will hold you to that. Thank you, Senator Wiger.
CW: I have the highest regard for the testifiers and Justice Page here. You’re a hero and a role model and when you’re here, it has a high degree of credibility, the way you have walked the talk and given back and inspired thousands and thousands of people, I so much appreciate that. That said, I do have questions regarding the proposed amendment, but everyone agrees children first, but we need to mobilize an interpretation that people are more comfortable with and whether it is homeschoolers, private school sectors, union teachers or school boards, they have not coalesced, though they agree about children first. So, I would say work needs to be done. You would think all men, all women would have equal rights, but we can’t get an equal rights amendment completed in this country either. So, there’s a number of questions. You’re going to hear it on the opponents and we need to continue it, but Senator Anderson, you mentioned the importance and we all agree, that’s why we’re here regarding the achievement gap and the opportunity, there are a lot of proposals that are out there and one where there’s a lot of bipartisan support is on the Early Start. And it’s a great start for every child and there’s a half a billion dollar investment and we have that opportunity. There’s bipartisan proposals, the scholarships which you’re leading and a coauthor, but look at some of the remedies that are proven that will help address this achievement opportunity challenge we have. So, thank you for your efforts in good faith. I have questions about what unintended consequences there may be. More work needs to be done.
CN: Thank you, Senator Wiger. As you can tell, everyone here and I believe everyone in this hearing room today, knows how important our children are. They are our future and as I was listening to your presentation, I am reminded that we are in so much agreement. I was looking at the top of every agenda, which you all have in front of you. It encapsulates many of the things that you have said today. This is what the Senate Education Committee does. This is who we are. We focus on students, find what works. Education is the great equalizer. In a significant sense, education is the moral, racial and economic issue of our day. We will focus our state resources on providing opportunities for all Minnesota students, to receive an education that prepares them for the jobs of tomorrow, by using proven incentives and powerful innovations to achieve better results. And I think that’s what I hear you saying as well. And this has been on every agenda since I became Chair in 2017. This is something that is held dear by every member of this committee and I would venture to say, every member of the legislature. But, there is a bit of a difference. This is aspirational and this is what we must have aspirations. In the legislature, we have been able to follow up those aspirational goals that we all believe with real solutions like statewide open enrollment for all public school students, education, tax deductions and credits, compensatory revenue to assist low income children. That’s about a half a billion dollar program a year. This year we’re looking at focusing some of those dollars on that all-important early reading. I can’t go to bed at night when I think about the fact that 45% of our third graders are illiterate. They’re not able to read at grade level. I tell you, if we address that problem with real solutions, we will change, we will lower drastically our achievement gap. 88% of those kids that are not reading well by the end of third grade, drop out. It’s unconscionable that we would continue to promote students who are not able to read. It is our job to make sure they can and we’re working on that diligently in this committee. You will see legislation with dollars to make sure all of our teachers can teach reading. Other things, real solutions that we have the achievement and integration revenue. Senator Torres Ray was very involved in updating and making that program better. We have postsecondary enrollment options for high school students, which has shown, by the way, to close achievement gaps by double digits for our minority kids. We also have things like online learning, both part time and full time. We have charter schools that are independent and have innovative approaches. We have these preschool scholarships that Senator Wiger talked about, those flexible targeted scholarships that empower parents and prepare those young children like President Kashkari spoke of, to prepare them to make sure they’re entering kindergarten ready to learn. We have reading by third grade, dyslexia specialists at the department. Thank you, Senator Chamberlain, that was one of your proposals that is now law. We have the literacy incentive aid, which is rewarding schools for literacy. And I could go on and on, Qcoms[01:27:23???] teacher-tiered licensure that helps get our best teachers in the classrooms and make sure that we do not eliminate teachers of color. So, we have put these things in place, P-TECH, pathways in technology, early college high and the only reason I take the time to tell you about these real solutions is because that’s where they happen, at the legislature. It is the legislature that not only must approve the taxation as Senator Torres Ray said, but must also approve the use of those taxpayer dollars and I’ve just listed a few of the things that work. And so, while I am behind you 100% in your effort to make sure every one of our students are prepared with an education that prepares them fully for their lives of significance and empowers them, I am concerned that a constitutional amendment does not accomplish that. That is something that we’re going to need to talk about some more because we do know that while the legislature’s aspirations, which we just spoke of, lead to legislation, the aspirational outcomes, which are just the same that we’re hearing from the proponents of a constitutional amendment, do not lead to those. It leads to the judicial branch and lawsuits as opposed to real legislation. We could speak more on this and I think we will, but I wanted to give Senator Howe as the chief author, some closing comments. Senator Howe.
JH: Thank you, Madam Chair. I will say, if all those things worked, we wouldn’t have the achievement gap we currently have today. And I think that’s apparent. All those things may be good programs. You wouldn’t have this room filled with private schools and homeschoolers if our public school system was doing its job. So, we can continue to go down that road. You know, people are worried about the right to a quality public education…all children have that fundamental right. You have the right to vote, but not everyone utilizes that right to vote. This gives the power to the parents by giving them the ability to hold the schools and the legislature accountable for failing the public school system. Some have said leadership is the difference. Well, I will say this is our opportunity to lead and I see that we’re failing again. So, to all these homeschoolers and private schoolers, the reason they’re there is because we have failed. And we need to protect them. We need to protect their opportunity to choose and have that choice and if that’s not in our amendment, we’ll put it there, but I think we’re failing by choosing not to do something because what we have done has been unsuccessful. Thank you.
CN: Thank you, Senator Howe. Thank you for your presentation today and also for the audiences, a flexibility. This is such an important issue, you can see we’re going just a tad longer than intended, but we do want to be fair and we want to make sure that if we could call up, we have 30 minutes for those who are opposed. We will be fair in our timing as well. And the first person on the list is Steve Ford. And if I could have you come up three at a time, that will make sure that we spend most of our time getting your comments. So, first on our agenda is Steve Ford. He will be followed by Mike Donnelly, if you could come to the table as well and Katherine Kersten. If the three of you could come to the table and get yourself positioned in front of one of these mics. Be sure to pull it right up to your mouth so we can hear you well. I’ll have you sign in on the roster as well. And Mr. Ford, welcome to the Committee. If you could kindly introduce yourself for the record. Mr. Ford.
SF: Yes. Thank you very much for having me. Apparently I was invited here because I wrote a letter to the editor that apparently got a lot of attention. I’m in a bit of a strange position here because like many of you, children are our top priority, yes. I taught in the St. Paul public schools for 22 years, most recently as a writing specialist for 6th graders for the last 14 years. I’m retired now. I never thought I’d be up here testifying against a proposal to amend the constitution with the word, quality, I guess it was. My frustration as a retired teacher and I’ve written a book about teaching, writing. I volunteer at my local elementary school. I think about teaching and education all the time. I miss teaching terribly. I was very successful and I know better than probably most people in this room, the frustrations and the rewards of teaching. And like many of you, I need to know how this amendment would play out. I’m very concerned about that. Do I have three minutes, is that correct? That’s what I was told or can I go on?
CN: You may go on for five. Continue please.
SF: So, the fact of the matter is that we and it’s here today too and it’s in the newspapers. I’m a news junkie, I read everything about education and everything else all day long. We make statements about things that are unacceptable all the time. And I am sick and tired of hearing these proclamations from all manner of citizens and officials and everyone else. We have a lot of things that are unacceptable. Poverty is unacceptable, racism is unacceptable. Oh, we’re real good at making demands for better education and this has been going on for decades and decades and decades. So, I feel strange being up here and I don’t want to be misconstrued and I don’t think anyone who is testifying against this amendment wants to be misconstrued as someone who is against better education. That’s absurd and I think as one of the senators mentioned, this is a very strange situation we’re all in. So, I would like to just speak briefly to the practicality coming from my experience as a teacher. One of the things and I think I included this in that editorial, I believe that a lot of it should be on the shoulders of our teacher training institutions. We never hear from them. They’re not in the editorial on the editorial page, they are not on the radio and I listen and read all day every day and write about education. Now, it seems to me that if teacher training institutions—and by the way, I learn from talking to someone in the higher ed department, I didn’t even realize the gap in accountability, when I look at these private organizations…in my statement here, that accredit…well, they don’t accredit our teacher training institutions, give them accreditation, the Department of Higher Education does, but it’s these private organizations that examine the teacher training institutions and they tell the state they’re OK, they should be accredited. I think that’s a problem. And teacher training institutions are responsible for preparing our teachers and I think a lot of this problem is that teachers are not prepared and I have to get in a word about phonics. Now, that’s a mundane term and I know a lot of people don’t want to talk about it, but the fact of the matter is, as you probably have been hearing all of the publicity lately about the fact that when we got rid of phonics in the late 60s, that’s when this reading gap started. It’s been proven over and over again, in the research. Now, my message is, we could make huge headway in this gap problem and the reading problem just by training our teachers properly in how to teach phonics instead of what’s been called whole language and a lot of other things, it started in the early 70s. So, I’m making a pitch for phonics and I think it would make a world of difference.
CN: Thank you, Mr. Ford. If I could stand up and applaud, I would. We know that that’s key for reading. Members, Mr. Ford’s complete letter is in your packet. It is well worth your time to read and it’s probably available for the audience as well. Thank you, Mr. Ford. Our next, Mike Donnelly, welcome to the Committee. If you could introduce yourself for the record please.
MD: Thank you, Madam Chair and members of the Committee and guests. My name is Michael Donnelly. I’m a Senior Counsel for the Homeschool Legal Defense Association. We advocate for the rights of parents to direct the education and upbringing of their children. We have about 85,000 member families around the world. We’re headquartered in the Washington DC area. In Minnesota, we work with our program ICHE and represent the interest of thousands of families here in this great state. I’m a Constitutional law instructor also, Patrick Henry College and Regent Law School. And I want to say I respect the intentions claimed by the proponents of the amendment to see quality education provided to Minnesota children. They’ve obviously looked at this issue deeply and done some important work and their desire to see change in education, positive change is admirable. Government funded education consumes massive resources and of course, lawmakers and school administrators should require a level of accountability while seeking the very best outcomes possible. However, it seems to me that there’s no constitutional statutory obstacle in your way to achieving those goals today. Our association is concerned about this legislation because of the potential it has to harm our community, violate existing federal constitutional presumptions and important societal norms. We’re concerned that by asserting that quote, “all children have a fundamental right to a quality public education” that the state of Minnesota would be creating an unconstitutional preference for public education, which could lead to the abolition of nonpublic education. And lest you think I’m a crazy conspiracy theorist, let me remind you that in 1925, the United States Supreme Court invalidated a 1922 Oregon voter referendum that required all children to receive a public education, effectively banning nonpublic education. This was the [01:40:32???] Society of Sisters in which the court wrote, the fundamental theory of liberty upon which all governments of this union repose excludes any general power of the state to standardize its children by forcing them to accept instruction from public teachers only. The child is not the mere creature of the state. Those who nurture him and direct his destiny, have the right coupled with a high duty, to recognize and prepare him for additional obligations. Of course, we’re talking about parents. If a child has a right to a public education, would parents who homeschool their children or enroll the child in a non-public school be denying that child their right? The proponents say and I appreciate that, that that is not their intent. Yet there are many today who advocate for that very thing. I’m concerned about this amendment that it would not empower families, but would empower the state as the ultimate authority in determining a child’s education, by recasting the government’s constitutional duty to provide educational opportunities using a child’s rights formulation. The amendment rejects constitutional presumptions affirmed by the United States Supreme Court, in particular, in JR v. Parr??? and where parents were said to be presumed to act in the best interest of their children. The idea of the state as the agent with the final authority to decide what is in the best interest of the child, is a principle that’s embedded in the United Nations Convention on the rights of the child, the treaty which the United States has declined to ratify for many good reasons and which our association has long opposed. By setting up the state as the final arbitrator of whether parents are appropriately providing for the education of their children, this amendment challenges some deeply rooted history, traditions, norms of our constitutional republic. Now, I have to say something with the greatest regard for the truth of the comments made by the proponents regarding slavery and women’s suffrage, I’m just a little troubled by the implication that opposition to this constitutional amendment is racially or gender motivated, simply because this language is written in 1857. Finally, the amendment seems to undermine important constitutional notions over the separation of powers. The principle of the separation of powers is one of the great American ideas of our founders, is written into our federal constitution to protect us, the citizens, from the power of unitary governing authorities. Our democratic system works best to protect our rights, citizens’ rights when power is separated rather than combined, but under this new approach, how would the various responsibility to the state be assessed? Each branch of government would now have its own apparent grant of power and could argue that it was responsible to provide a quality public education and will be duty-bound to assert it. Ultimately, because these will be new constitutional questions, this issue would have to be decided by judicial elites rather than elected representatives, you. Our system allocates policy debates on how to allocate resources and organized government institutions in the legislature. These should be had in the legislature by you, the elected representatives because you are closest to the people, you have more time, although I’m sure you don’t believe that to be true. You do. And you have the appropriate mechanisms, like this room, like this mechanism we’re having right now, to seek public input and to debate competing demands and values. With so many new terms and principles…I’m going to wrap up, ma’am, I’m wrapping up right now if I could finish this thought.
MD: Thank you. With so many new terms and principles, the courts would have to get involved and only one individual judge’s swing vote could determine with finality, Minnesota educational policy. The answer here to issues of quality equity is not more government, it’s more empowered parents and families. When government grows, freedom shrinks. If we want better educational outcomes for our kids, we need more options for children, not more government. Thank you.
CN: Thank you, Mr. Donnelly. Ms. Kersten, welcome to the Committee. Please introduce yourself for the record.
KK: Thank you, Madam Chair and the Committee. I’m Katherine Kersten, Senior Policy Fellow at Center of the American Experiment. Justice Page and President Kashkari claim that their proposed amendment would put K-12 education in the hands of parents where it belongs. In fact, it would put K-12 policy and funding in the hands of Minnesota judges.
CN: Ms. Kersten, if you could just get a bit closer to that mic.
KK: Yes, OK. It would put K-12 policy and funding in the hands of Minnesota judges. They maintain that their amendment’s adoption would improve poor and minority students’ academic performance. On the contrary, as evidence from many other states demonstrates, it would open a Pandora’s box of lawsuits, massively increase spending and seriously erode democratic control of education with little or no academic improvement to show for it. In two reports, the Federal Reserve cites two kinds of evidence for its claim that the amendment would reduce the learning gap: constitutional amendments in Florida and Louisiana and academic gains in schools in New Orleans, New York and a few other places. Florida’s academic gains did not flow from or require the state’s 1998 constitutional amendment. They were the result of a comprehensive K-12 reform plan that Governor Jeb Bush initiated in 1999. He created his A+ schools plan based on elementary school literacy, enhanced school accountability and expanded school choice after visiting 250 schools around the state of Florida and he campaigned on it before the amendment was signed…before it was adopted…excuse me. If you believe that a constitutional amendment was necessary for Florida’s K-12 transformation, as President Kashkari suggested, I encourage you to go directly to Governor Jeb Bush. I will be happy to provide you with his contact information. Academic gains in New Orleans did not result from a constitutional amendment, but from the unique circumstances of Hurricane Katrina. Katrina damaged or destroyed 110 of the 126 public schools in New Orleans. In response, the state created the system of charter schools, operated by nonprofits using a 2003 amendment that allowed it to manage failing schools or allow others to do so. Today, almost 95% of the city’s students attend charter schools. New Orleans’ success arose from school choice, not from a constitutional amendment. The Fed also points to academic gains in a few New York City and Boston schools as evidence that Minnesota needs the Page-Kashkari amendment, but in New York, gains occurred in beat-the-odds charter schools and in Boston, at schools in a unique wraparound social service program. We already have both here in Minnesota and we do not need a constitutional amendment to expand them. Putting education in the hands of courts has failed to produce meaningful academic gains in any other state. Take Washington State. School funding litigation began there in 2007. The State Supreme Court ordered a vast increase in spending and later held the state in contempt with a fine of $100,000 a day. The legislature then passed the largest tax increase in Washington State history and K-12 spending almost doubled over 10 years. Despite this vast infusion of money, student achievement has remained flat in Washington. In a recent article in MinnPost, the Washington State Plaintiff’s attorney explained how the Page-Kashkari amendment’s legal buzzwords would facilitate a similar suit here. Is that what we want for the children of Minnesota? In New Jersey, K-12 litigation has been going on for 50 years. It produced the largest sales and income tax hike in state history. Today, some districts there spent as much as $34,000 per student, yet minority low income students’ academic performance has not meaningfully improved and in some places, it has fallen. After K-12 litigation in Wyoming, between 1996 and 2007, the state’s education spending grew from the national average to among the highest in the nation. In 2009, Wyoming’s per pupil spending was almost twice that of in neighboring Colorado. But, Colorado students outperformed your Washington peers in many measures. In Colorado, plaintiffs filed a similar suit demanding up to $4 billion a year in additional K-12 funding and up to $17 billion in new capital funding. Colorado’s Attorney General declared that the state would either have to raise taxes and buy at least 50% or devote 89% of the general fund budget to K-12 funding, crowding out healthcare, public safety and higher education. Fortunately, the Colorado Supreme Court declared that the state’s educational funding system was constitutional in 2013. I’ll finish up very quickly. Remember, Minnesota already has an ongoing education adequacy lawsuit in the Cruz-Guzman suit and the Page-Kashkari amendment would significantly increase the likelihood of plaintiffs succeeding there. Some business organizations support the Page-Kashkari amendment, but they are misguided in my view. They hope the amendments will promote school choice and accountability and that its language about measuring student performance against uniform standards will prove meaningful. I’m afraid this is wishful thinking. Improving academic achievement and shrinking the learning gap are goals of all Minnesotans, but the path to effective K-12 reform does not lead through the courts. It requires the leadership of elected officials with high standards who make tough choices, demand accountability, support robust school choice and push back relentlessly to special interests…
CN: Please give us your comments. I’m afraid we didn’t get them all, but we will make sure that the committee. gets them. Thank you. Next we have Fred, thank you very much, Fred Nolan, David Watkins and Cedric Frasier. If you could please join us at the testifying table. Do try and make sure we hear all of your salient comments, but at the same time, be as concise as possible. Dr. Nolan, welcome to the committee. Introduce yourself for the record, please.
FN: Thank you, Madam Chair and Committee. I’m Fred Nolan, the Executive Director of the Minnesota Rural Education Association. The Minnesota Rural Education Association, MREA board of directors is composed of teachers, school board members, administrators and higher education representatives. We represent 230 independent school districts, 34 cooperatives educating 225,000 students daily. Our board had a concentrated discussion of this amendment, an equal right to public education at our board meeting February 4. MREA has been putting learners first for 35 years and agrees to the urgency to address Minnesota’s achievement gaps. We responded to President Kashkari, retired Judge Page in writing February 6, that’s the handout in your packet and we appreciate the recent response from President Kashkari. Despite this exchange, MREA continues to have questions and observations that gives us pause. Among them are the following. This is an urgent problem, but how long will it take the courts to impact the education of even one single child should this amendment be adopted? This doesn’t fix the problem, it kicks it down the road for litigation and then onto whatever body is ordered to enact a remedy. What does this proposed amendment allow the state to do that’s not allowed under the current constitution? All the remedies are currently available. Why are the constitutional purposes of education being changed from the stability of the Republican form of government depending mainly upon the intelligence of the people, to participation in the economy, our democracy and society? It appears to be a downgrading of the centrality of education to our very existence as a state and nation, to individual skills-based model. To educate and to learn is a two-part process. By definition, to educate is to give intellectual, moral and social instruction to someone, especially a child, and to learn is to gain knowledge or understanding of that skill in study, instruction or experience and be able to demonstrate the understanding. By contrast, first amendment rights are singular. I join, I speak, I worship or not. Even civil rights are defined in what one can and cannot do. They do not require the participation of another person or an organization. MREA wonders whether applying a right, what is clearly a two-part process, with the active involvement of the educator and learner is the appropriate application, particularly when that right is measured by the learner’s ability to demonstrate the learning of uniform achievement standards. To believe that public education schools can close the achievement gap is to put blinders on the world that we and our children, especially those not achieving live in, MREA has long supported organizations in the state to address barriers to children’s readiness from housing and disability, hunger, early learning, public health and other issues. These are outside and beyond this amendment. Finally, in all the testimony and correspondence, there’s a flavor that if one does not support this constitutional amendment, one is supporting the status quo. Nothing can be further from the truth. This is a discussion about means, not ends. MREA agrees that with the proponents, that the time to close the achievement gap is past do. MREA disagrees the proposing and promoting this amendment before you is the answer that should be placed in front of the voters this Fall. Thank you.
CN: Thank you, Dr. Nolan. Members, and you do have Dr. Nolan’s comments in your packet as well. Mr. David Watkins, welcome to the Committee. Introduce yourself for record please.
DW: Thank you, Madam Chairman and Senators. My name is David Watkins. I’m the Executive Director of the Minnesota Association of Christian Home Educators or MACHE. I want to thank you for the opportunity to express our concerns about the proposed amendment. MACHE began in 1983 and worked with the Minnesota Legislature to pass the law in 1987 that made homeschooling legal in Minnesota. We exist to inspire, equip and protect the freedom of homeschool families and represent 1,000 of them. I currently have 34 years as a homeschool parent and now a grandparent of 26 children. We are concerned about the education of our children and we took that to heart, so parental involvement is very important to us. We have significant concerns with the proposed amendment to the Minnesota constitution, several of which are listed in your notes there. Number one, compared to the current Minnesota Constitution, which has served the state well with clarity and direction, the proposed amendment contains language that is obscure and misleading. Letter A, the term fundamental right appears twice and is used as if it is fact. However, there is no mention in the Minnesota Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, nor the United States Constitution of a right to an education of any sort. Using the term, fundamental right, does violence to a correct notion of what fundamental rights are and would suggest that a child who received a private education was being denied a fundamental right. Letter B, the term, quality is also used twice. How would quality be defined and by whom? The parents who love their children and want the best for them or the state, which really has no personal interest in the child other than so they can participate in the economy. As a side note and as far as I have observed, people can participate in the economy whether or not they have any education. The wording of the proposed amendment clearly indicates that it would be the state deciding the definition. That would be a huge governmental over reach and is very troubling. Letter C, the term, fully prepared, is wide open for interpretation. Children have different capacities and learn differently, suggesting that the state can guarantee them some specific opportunity or that the state could ever know what is their full potential is misleading and can only lead to disappointment. Letter D, the term, democracy is used in the proposed amendment, but our country and state is a republican form of government, as mentioned in the current constitution, not a democracy. Letter E, uniform achievement standards can only measure academic achievement. They cannot measure character or emotional stability or wisdom, which are far more important qualities in life. Number two, change in the current constitution is totally unnecessary and in our view, dangerous. Letter A, it would replace the responsibility of the parent to see that a child is educated and the legislature to see that an efficient system of public schools existed, to a so-called right of a child to a quality education. There’s no more right to a quality education than there’s a right to a quality job or a quality place to live or a quality income. Letter B, it would place the state in control of education rathe than the parents and the local school districts. It would be far more effective to put more emphasis on strengthening the home and parents. The well-functioning home is a bedrock of our society. I would suggest something like quote, “the parental right to direct education includes the right to choose, as an alternative to public education, private, religious or homeschools and the right to make reasonable choices within public schools for one’s child.” Letter C, it would diminish the individuality of the student by measuring him with a test of conformity to a standard set by the state. We are not designed as robots to function on a civic assembly line of state elites. Number 3, the financial impact of this proposed amendment could be devastating. Letter A, the proposed amendment would produce a fertile field for lawsuits. What happens if a graduate has trouble finding a job and says he was not provided a quality education and then sues the state? Since homeschooling has demonstrated much success in turning out a quality student and one who is well-prepared for life, what would happen if a child insisted on being homeschooled? Would his parents be forced to withdraw him from public school? If a child was being homeschooled and had a time of rebellion against his parents, would the court remove him from the home and place him in the public school? If a child was having trouble learning his school, would the state be forced to provide a tutor? Letter B, there’s already an overloaded court system. Most people would agree that we should have a strong educational system in place, but this proposed amendment would do nothing that the current constitution does not already provide. We also realize that perhaps this proposed amendment is really aimed at public schools, but does changing the wording really address the concern of achievement gaps? How would giving the child a right that is not in the constitution, improve the education? When did parental rights disappear? We are concerned that this proposed amendment would lay the groundwork for the stripping away of more parental rights and open the door for stronger state control of the family. It is the role of the state to see the children are educated, but it is not the role of the state to mandate the education or to approve the curriculum or methodology. A good education is important, but it is not the answer to society’s problems. The intent is good, but the proposed amendment is not the answer to close the achievement gap. It is much too subjective and opens the door for more judicial activism.
CN: Thank you, Mr. Watkins. Mr. Frasier. Welcome to the Committee. Introduce yourself for the record, please.
CF: Thank you, Chair Nelson and the Committee. My name is Cedrick Frasier and I’m a staff attorney with Education in Minnesota. But more importantly, I am a father of two children in Minnesota public schools. So, this is professional and a personal interest in me making sure that we get this right as a state. We welcome President Kashkari’s, that he has brought and raised this issue of education equality to a higher level. We welcome this conversation. Personally to me, I appreciate the inclusion of Justice Page in this conversation because for decades, Justice Page has been a respected sponsor and advocate of education. The assertion that passing this amendment is the bold move we need to close the gaps in academic achievement, between white students and students of color, although how and when it would happen have not been explained. We have heard references to the invigorating effects following amendments to the State Constitution of Washington and Florida. However, there is more to that story. A review of the education clauses in the constitutions of both states highlights what’s missing from the Minnesota proposal. We believe these omissions are significant. The Minnesota proposal removes language from our current constitution that remains in the Washington and Florida constitutions, specifically, the proposed amendment deletes the requirement of a general and uniform system of public schools. This is important because in 2018, the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled in the Cruz-Guzman case that the specific phrase, prohibited racially segregated schools. As you all know, that case is in mediation now. In 2006, the same language rocked the school voucher plan in Florida. The State Supreme Court ruled private schools that would have received public money were not uniform, in part because they were exempt from rules on teacher credentialing, standardized testing and other accountability measures. In Minnesota, abandoning this protective language would remove legal barriers to racially isolated schools and destruct the vouchers. The proposed amendment also erases the obligation of the legislature to fund a thorough and efficient system of public schools throughout the state, through taxation or other means and replaces it with a declaration of public education as the state’s paramount duty. Both Washington and Florida have explicit language that guarantees state funding for education. The Washington State Supreme Court confirmed a mandate for guaranteed funding in 2018, after 11 years of litigation. The outcome resulted in billions of new dollars for public schools. In Florida, the current constitution language goes even further than Washington. It includes language for a funding mechanism, but in 2002, the voters added specific policies. The new amendments mandated high quality pre-K for all children and it capped class sizes. In the constitution, precision matters. This proposal lacks that precision. No one should be comfortable replacing a clear legislative mandate with a general aspirational statement and no explicit funding source. Chair Nelson, members of the Committee, it is true this proposal would probably trigger all kinds of lawsuits all over the state. It is also true we believe the wording is seriously flawed, but those are not the most important reasons to vote against the amendment. The needs of our students are urgent and obvious. You have the power to make change right now. Do it, don’t delay. There’s no reason to punt to another branch of government when a legislature has proven solutions to our education inequalities right in front of it. One such thing is full service community schools. The act of doing what is necessary to ensure our states provide the next generations of students with a great education, should not be controversial. Nor should it require an economist to come up with an education plan and a court to impose it. Our schools are not struggling because of a weak constitutional language. They are underfunded to a lack of political will to raise the revenue required to provide the education they deserve. Thank you for your opportunity to address this.
CN: Thank you for your comments. Next, we have Miamon Queeglay, please welcome to the Committee. Introduce yourself for the record, please.
MQ: Hi. My name is Miamon Queeglay and I am the Community Schools Manager with Brooklyn Center Community Schools. Brooklyn Center Community School is a small suburban school district on the Northwest border of Minneapolis.
CN: Can you please confine your comments to the constitutional amendment? We’re just running short on time, so please address community schools and the constitutional amendment. Thank you.
MQ: As a community school, we’ve been able to have considerable gains of the community school model and have maintained the graduation rate above the state national average at 85.7%. Brooklyn Center, that’s risen from 2019 which was 84.2% in 2018. Graduation rates at our Early College Academy, our alternative learning site, rose significantly from 62.1% and we have also seen declines in discipline referrals and declines with 9 or more of our first hour tardys. With having a school-based clinic attached to our school, we’re able to offer health and human services and reduce disparities, like the Chair’s story about a student who was able to attend our…
CN: Ma’am, if you could please give us those comments, we’ll make sure that every member gets them. We’re just running up against the clock and we have a couple more testimonies.
MQ: So, the needs of our students are urgent, obvious and as legislators, you have the opportunity to address these disparities now and I encourage you to do so.
CN: Thank you for your comments and please make sure we get all of them so we can make sure the members hear them all. Thank you. We have someone from the Minnesota School Board Association and MASA. Welcome to the committee. Please introduce yourself for the record.
TM: My name is Terry Morrow. I’m the Director of Legal and Policy Services for the Minnesota School Board Association. You have a copy of my comments, so I will summarize very quickly what we have contained. MSB welcomes a discussion that the proposed amendment has generated and we share the critically important goal of closing the achievement gap. MSBA represents all 333 of Minnesota’s public school districts and our members have raised questions about the proposal. I’ll offer the three questions that we initially have and our two proposals. Our three questions concern, number one, funding. Minnesota’s public schools receive state and federal funding that’s insufficient to meet our student needs. Special education provides an instructive example and I provide information in my statement about funding under IDEA, the cross subsidy and concerns that this constitutional amendment would just exacerbate the problem. Our members ask, will the proposed amendment assure the state funding needed to meet the amendment’s requirements? Question number two, I will share with you a copy of our journal that describes some of the work that school districts across Minnesota are doing to address the achievement gap. And yet, economic instability, housing, healthcare, nutrition and other key factors that schools may not be able to resolve, directly and significantly impact student achievement. MSBA’s members ask, while it is a good start, is the amendment not insufficient because many factors often called opportunity gaps, are not addressed. Number three of the three questions, the amendment refers to a paramount duty of the state to ensure that students receive a quality education. In meetings with President Kashkari and Former Justice Page, participants expressed deep concern that school districts and locally elected school board members would be exposed to litigation, even though the duty is upon the state and our schools do not have the ability to raise funds. We rely upon the federal government, the state government and for approval of local levies. Our members ask, will public service of locally elected school board members expose them to liability for acts of omission or omission to the State of Minnesota related to this amendment? So, we offer two quick proposals. To insert the word, “the” as follows. It is the paramount duty of the state to ensure and fully fund quality public schools that fulfill the fundamental right. The proposal as written says it is, a paramount duty. President Kashkari and former Justice Page, however, routinely use the word, “the” when discussing the proposal. MSBA believes the proposal should reflect the way in which the advocates are talking about it. The word paramount means superior to all others or supreme. Only one paramount duty can exist. The word, “the” would forestall misunderstanding and needless conflict. It would also reflect the State of Minnesota’s responsibilities and Minnesota’s school boards believe that children do indeed come first. And second, we would propose inserting the words, “fully fund” in the sentence that begins, it is a paramount duty. This would establish the state’s responsibility more clearly than the proposal. In one meeting, the amendment’s advocate stated that they believe the word, ensure, includes the phrase full funding. Rather than risk uncertainty and because the stakes are so significant, MSBA believes that clarity and certainty should be included. Thank you very much for allowing MSBA to provide this information today.
CN: Thank you, Mr. Morrow. And members, you do have those full comments. Mr. Amoroso, welcome to the committee. Introduce yourself for the record, please.
GA: Thank you, Madam Chair and members of the Committee. Gary Amoroso, Executive Director of the Minnesota Association of School Administrators. Our members are the Superintendents of Schools in the state as well as other district level administrators. I do want to thank former Justice Page and President Kashkari for meeting with us and we are part of a meeting with a number of groups and in sharing the thoughts with us. As you’ve heard from most of the testifiers today, we are fully engaged and supportive of making sure every student within our public schools has the highest quality experience that they can have. This issue has created a lot of conversation within our membership and we don’t have one singular thought from our members. There are many thoughts that our members have. Some of our members are very supportive of this conversation, while other members have many concerns. So, what I would like to do is just share a couple of thoughts that I’ve garnered as we’ve had conversations with our members throughout the state, many of them you’ve already heard, so I’ll be very, very brief. We’re concerned about the concept of funding and the concept of funding explicitly being identified somewhere within the language of the constitution. We do believe that without it being said, what happens? Where does it go? And that is a concern of ours. We also have a concern about the conversation that talks about having things measured against uniform achievement standards. Does that infer that we will have a system of standardized tests that will determine if a child meets a certain threshold? Will that threshold be different for every child based upon his or her abilities, based on his or her experiences? And so, that would need to be fleshed out a lot more for us to have a comfort level. We also agree with our colleagues from MSBA that the word, “the” has a different meaning than the word “a” when talking about a paramount duty. And so, we are thankful that the conversation is being had. We fully support every child having the highest quality education. That’s not in question. The question is, if we are going to make a change in the constitution, which I think is a very significant change, I think we need to have more conversations. I think we’ve got to try to coalesce and bring groups together so that it could be done in a way that would meet everyone’s needs because right now I think we’re falling short of that. Thank you, Madam Chair.
CN: Thank you, Mr. Amoroso. Members, we have reached the end of our testifiers. Are there any comments, members? Senator Cwodzinski.
SC: Thank you, Madam Chair. Thank you, everybody for being here today. This has been a most edifying and delightful three to how many hours it’s been. I’m in awe of everybody’s passion today on both sides of this issue and you’ve given us all a great deal to think about. The only comment I really want to make is, someone earlier today said that our duty is to light that spark in every child and we don’t do that today. And if those 80,000 teachers that are working their tails off in every classroom in this state heard that comment said about them, I’m sure they would be outraged and I think one of the reasons the teacher’s union hasn’t come onboard for this constitutional amendment is because of that viewpoint that so many people have about our public school teachers, that they’re not doing their job and they’re not lighting their spark and I just didn’t want the day to go by without me commenting on that particular comment. And I did have a couple questions for Justice Page and President Kashkari, but I see that they’re gone. But, in their packet, there’s a mention of…
CN: If you’d like to give us the questions, we’ll get you those answers.
SC: Yeah, just real quick. It does say in their packet that there’s 312 educational amendments on ballots around the country, but it doesn’t say how many of them have passed. And the other thing…well, I can talk to them. Thank you, Madam Chair.
CN: Thank you, Senator Cwodzinski. Other comments? Senator Eichorn.
JE: Thank you, Madam Chair and thank you for the opportunity to hear and have this discussion today. In any area where we would consider changing our constitution, I think it’s important to have the robust discussions and hear the very vastly varying opinions because if we are going to change anything ever, we want to make sure we do the right thing. I want to do two things. I want to clear up one misconception that Senator Howe had mentioned that the only reason people homeschool or choose a private school is because of the public schools failing and that’s not always the case. There’s dozens of reasons parents take and choose that path and it’s a very personal decision for most parents that choose that. So, I wanted to correct that. I did appreciate that Mr. Kashkari and Mr. Page, I think their heart’s in the right place, even though I don’t think this is the right approach. They did talk about the kids. It was constantly about the kids, about the kids, about the kids and I do think they do want to see kids served and I think we need to hear more about that in this committee in general as we hear from all the different groups that always come before us. Sometimes I feel like the kids get lost in that discussion. I am not in favor of this amendment the way it is and I just want to go back to one thing that Mr. Ford actually had in his written testimony that I think sums some things up pretty well, that he didn’t say that I would like to say. I do think this opens us up to quite a bit of litigation and that concerns me, but his comment here is blaming, shaming and reconstructing our constitution will only lead to delay and complicate the path to a better education, more rigorous teacher training programs will yield better teachers. I do think there’s some degree of that. There’s other things we can certainly do that we’re continuing to support our teachers and our students without changing the constitution and have better outcomes. Again, thank you, Madam Chair for the opportunity to hear the discussion today. I think it was very well had and the discussion is important.
CN: Thank you, Senator Eichorn. Senator Jasinksi.
JJ: I thank you Madam Chair. In an effort of time, I just want to echo Senator Eichorn’s thoughts. Those are very close to what mine are as well. I’m the newest member on E-12, so it’s been a learning experience sitting on E-12, but I definitely have liked the discussion we’ve had, listening to both sides and we truly want to close that achievement gap. There’s nothing that we want more in the state collectively, in these walls, in this capital. So, again, I appreciate the discussion. I do have the same concerns that Senator Eichorn does. So, thank you.
CN: Thank you, Senator Jasinski. Senator Clausen.
GC: Thank you, Madam Chair and I appreciated the conversation that we’ve had here today. Education is an investment in the future of our state. It’s also an investment in those individuals that will carry our state forward in the future. So, this cannot be a more important issue to discuss and taking time to look at all the issues that we’ve heard today I think is really important, so I look forward to continuing the conversation. Thank you.
CN: Thank you, Senator Clausen. It has been a full day. I thank the audience. I will just make a couple of brief closing comments. I would agree that, to use some of the words from the proposed amendment, I would say, closing our achievement gap is the paramount duty for us and that involves sometimes difficult conversations, sometimes lengthy conversations and we’re going to continue beyond the conversations, but to actually doing those things that we know work. We had a hearing in this committee on those schools that are beating the odds. We know what’s working, we’re going to continue to push for those things and focus on students. I thank all who participated. If you were unable to get your voice in the conversation, please get your comments to me, Senator Carla Nelson, firstname.lastname@example.org. We’ll make sure that the entire committee gets those comments. Thank you so much. This meeting’s adjourned. We will meet next Monday, March 9th.
[02:19:54 end of recording]