Updated: February 15, 2021 06:52 PM
Created: February 15, 2021 06:24 PM
The pandemic and civil unrest after the death of George Floyd slowed down a push for a constitutional amendment aimed at narrowing the achievement gap between students of color and white students. However, supporters of the amendment say those same two events are emphasizing the need for the amendment.
"Both the pandemic and the civil unrest following the death of George Floyd have highlighted in a stark way these inequities," Alan Page told 5 Eyewitness News on Monday.
The proposed constitutional amendment is known as the "Page Amendment." The former Minnesota Supreme Court Justice and former Minnesota Viking now heads the Page Education Foundation and is the prime mover behind the amendment.
Research by the Minneapolis Federal Reserve last year found that 37 percent of low-income students are proficient in math and reading, compared to 65 percent of students from families with higher incomes. They also found only 30 percent of Black students perform at grade level, compared to 65 percent of white students. The study also indicated 25 percent of Black students are college-ready, compared to 69 percent of white students.
"Every child should have the opportunity to reach their fullest potential," Page said in an interview. "And an education system that denies them that opportunity is one that results in an injustice."
The amendment would be put before voters in the 2022 elections, asking voters this question:
"Shall the Minnesota Constitution be amended to provide that all children have a fundamental right to a quality public education and establish that quality public schools are a paramount duty of the state?"
The bill is authored by DFL Representative Hodan Hassan of Minneapolis, along with several DFL and Republican co-authors.
"These students have a right to a quality education," says co-author Rep. Ron Kresha, (R) Little Falls. "They already have a right to an education, but lets make that education one of quality."
While the constitutional amendment has bipartisan legislative support, it's opposed by the state's teachers union, Education Minnesota.
"Minnesota families – white, Black, brown, from different places and of different races – need their elected leaders to fully fund our schools – right now," the union said in a statement. "The proposed amendment to the Minnesota Constitution won’t help, and might make it worse, by delaying meaningful action for years and removing important protections already in the state constitution."
Those protections include a clause in the constitution that now calls for the state to provide a “general and uniform system of public schools.” In a statement issued last year when the proposal was first floated, the union also said the amendment could "pave the way for taxpayer-funded vouchers for private schools, which may discriminate against certain students."
Page disagrees and says the amendment is aimed at bolstering the public school system by making it a top priority of the legislature and governor. He says it's all about helping all kids in Minnesota.
"This isn't about trying to hurt or harm teachers and as far as the teachers union we hope they come along," he said.
Gov. Tim Walz has also expressed opposition to the constitutional amendment, but ultimately his approval isn't necessary to put it on the ballot. Constitutional amendment questions only require approval of the House and Senate to be sent to Minnesota voters to decide the issue.
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