On Wednesday, Jan. 8, Minneapolis Federal Reserve Bank President Neel Kashkari and former Supreme Court Justice Alan Page launched a campaign that could change the Minnesota Constitution in efforts to reform education and lessen the achievement gap.
“All children have a fundamental right to a quality public education that fully prepares them,” was phrased in the proposal launched by the two Minnesotans, the Star Tribune reported after an interview with them.
According to a study produced by the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, Minnesota has some of the worst educational disparities in the U.S., despite the billions of dollars spent by the state to solve the problem. These disparities are found using measurements of race, ethnicity and socioeconomic status.
Page and Kashkari hope that the amendment to the state’s constitution would raise the overall quality of education in public schools.
The two are facing backlash from a powerful teachers’ union, Education Minnesota. The union has stated that it will resist the amendment if it goes to the legislature for approval.
According to the union, the proposed amendment would remove the constitutional requirement for a uniform system of public education for the state. By doing so, it would allow for taxpayer-funded vouchers for private school, which could allow for discrimination against some students.
“Every Minnesota student deserves to learn in a building with a nurse, a counselor and class size small enough for teachers to give individual attention. Many students are missing those things now. Imagine how much worse it would get if the funding requirement was removed from the state constitution,” Education Minnesota President Denise Specht said.
The current public education section of the constitution reads:
“UNIFORM SYSTEM OF PUBLIC SCHOOLS. The stability of a republican form of government depending mainly upon the intelligence of the people, it is the duty of the legislature to establish a general and uniform system of public schools. The legislature shall make such provisions by taxation or otherwise as will secure a thorough and efficient system of public schools throughout the state.” (Article XIII, section 1)
The proposed amendment would change that to read:
“EQUAL RIGHT TO QUALITY PUBLIC EDUCATION. All children have a fundamental right to a quality public education that fully prepares them with the skills necessary for participation in the economy, our democracy, and society, as measured against uniform achievement standards set forth by the state. It is the paramount duty of the state to ensure quality public schools that fulfill this fundamental right.”
According to Page and Kashkari, a constitutional amendment would make quality education a civil right and would give people more power in the judicial system rather than enacting specific policies to take on the achievement gap.
Specht has voiced her concerns that it would remove the state’s responsibility to pay for public education, thus creating larger disparities and achievement gaps.
“The public schools paid for by the taxpayers should be available to every Minnesota family no matter where they are from, how they pray, whether their children have special needs, or who they love,” Specht said. “This amendment favors parents who can afford to hire attorneys to advocate for their own children, probably at the expense of families with fewer resources. That is the opposite of education equity.”
However, Page believes that it wouldn’t lead to lower funding because the language of the new amendment states that education is still a state responsibility.