Proposed constitutional amendment aims to eliminate Minnesota achievement gap, gains prominent supporters

Updated: January 08, 2020 06:31 PM

The latest effort to eliminate Minnesota's achievement gap in education has some prominent supporters.

Former Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Alan Page and Minneapolis Federal Reserve Bank President Neel Kashkari unveiled their proposal for a constitutional amendment.

The two said they want to truly put children first, adding the state's current education policies are a civil rights issue.

Page and Kashkari spoke Wednesday candidly about their proposal that would give every child in Minnesota an equal right to quality education.

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"For me, this is about justice as much as anything else, and it gives parents and children the power to have that right vindicated," Page said.

Page says current Minnesota state law only allows students access to an "adequate" education system.

And that state law has not been updated since the policy was first enacted back in 1857, more than 160 years ago.

"[The amendment] gives parents and families a voice that they don't have today," said Page.

The amendment could pave the way for new legislation. If the standards of those new laws are not met, ultimately, litigation from parents and students.

"What the children of a family in north Minneapolis need is likely going to be different from what kids in Bemidji need or Winona, this amendment, the way we have designed it, will support all of those needs by letting the children, elected representatives and teachers design the solution for those kids," said Kashkari.

Education Minnesota, the teachers union, opposes the amendment stating, "the strategy paves the way for taxpayer-funded vouchers for private schools, which may discriminate against certain students."

Education Minnesota President Denise Specht added, "The amendment favors parents who can afford to hire attorneys to advocate for their own children, probably at the expense of families with fewer resources."

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"The argument that low-income families won't be able to utilize their right, I find it offensive, and if one family files a suit on behalf of their child that one action can lead to benefits for all families, that's the power of civil rights," Kashkari responded.

Minnesota GOP education leaders spoke out in support of the proposed amendment.

Reps. Ron Kresha, R-Little Falls, and Sondra Erickson, R-Princeton, Republican Leads on the House Education Finance and Policy Divisions, issued the following statement in response to Page and Kashkari:

"It's no surprise the leader of Education Minnesota has chosen a reactionary approach and opposition to a proposal that requires real results for all Minnesota kids in exchange for the billions of dollars we invest in our schools. President Kashkari and Justice Page have provided a penetrating and thorough analysis of the academic performance gaps plaguing our schools. As public servants, we welcome the input and collaboration from thoughtful leaders and look forward to further conversation on their proposal, and we continue to invite their transformative, bold ideas to improve education in our schools across the state.

Rather than simply pouring money into a system that disproportionately favors Metro School Districts and funding pet pilot projects in St. Paul, we need statewide solutions that improve quality and value a student in Minneola as much as Minneapolis, and see a child born in Sartell given the same opportunities as St. Paul."

To make it to the ballot, this would need an author to be introduced into each house, and support.

Then it would be up to 51% of voters, voting in the election, to say yes.

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Jessica Miles

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