Alan Page, Neel Kashkari renew calls for education reform following George Floyd’s death

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It’s been nearly two months since George Floyd was killed. His death has renewed calls for police reform and strategies to address systematic racism.

The president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, Neel Kashkari, and retired Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Alan Page are also pushing for change within the educational system.

On Monday, they released an essay calling for police reform, writing that police brutality is symptomatic of "a system that denies equal justice under the law."

The pair goes on to remark that, "While it can’t be captured in a short, powerful video, our education system, in its own way, has been quietly, but persistently, denying equal educational opportunity and killing the futures of children of color, Indigenous children, and low-income White children for decades.”

Kashkari and Page are again pushing for a change to the Minnesota constitution.

The pair sat down for an interview with 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS on Monday.

“We thought now would be a good time to remind people that education is really at the root of so many of the disparities that we see in our society,” said Kashkari.

Page added, “If we want to impact people in a positive way, if we want to eliminate or get at the very difficult issue of racial disparities education is central to the answer."

They started working together nearly two years ago.

Kashkari reached out to Page for his help in addressing the disparities documented in Federal Reserve research.

“When you get a call from the Minneapolis Fed, you sort of pay attention,” said Page.

The Page Education Foundation has been working to close the achievement gap for students of color for decades.

“I’ve been working on education, educational equity issues for longer than I can remember,” said Page. “My focus is from the justice perspective and Neel’s focus is from the economic perspective.”

Kashkari explained, “One of the goals of the Fed, one our objectives is maximum employment, as many people as possible are able to find good jobs and provide for themselves. There’s no bigger determinant in anybody’s success in the job market than the education that they have.”

Their amendment would strike current language that says the legislature must create a "general and uniform system of public schools".

It would replace it with "all children have a fundamental right to a quality public education… it is a paramount duty of the state".

“If we amend our constitution the way that Alan and I are proposing, Minnesota will have the strongest constitutional education provision in the country- and we should,” said Kashkari.

The change would allow parents to sue the state if they don’t feel their child is getting a quality education, according to Page.

“It makes education a civil right and provides a remedy for violation of that right,” he said.

Research from the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis analyzed test scores of students in Minnesota. Low-income students of all races did not perform as well.

“Our education system today is failing wide swaths of children in Minnesota,” said Kashkari.

The October 2019 report also showed the racial disparities among students.

According to the report, 65% of white students showed proficiency at the fourth-grade reading level compared to 31% of American Indian/Alaska Native students, 31% of Black students, and 32% of Hispanic fourth-grade students.

An analysis of eight-grade math test scores showed 65% of white students were proficient, while only 25% of American Indian/Alaska Native students, 29% of Black students and 35% of Hispanic students demonstrated proficiency.

“You could say there’s a direct correlation in educational achievement and certainly in poverty, employment, housing, healthcare outcomes and crime,” said Page. “The disparities for children of color are unconscionable. If we can change that, and we think our amendment does that, we can begin to get at the heart of these other issues.”

The proposed constitutional amendment doesn’t spell out specific changes to the education system.

“In the first instance what this will do is give the Legislature and the executive branch the opportunity to sit down and design what education should look like in the 21st century,” said Page.

5 EYEWITNESS NEWS asked if it would hold the state more accountable in the way it funds education.

“This would make education a paramount duty in the state and that would mean the state would have no higher duty than ensuring we have fully funded quality schools,” said Kashkari. “It would elevate funding and elevate schools in our state government.”

House and Senate versions were introduced during the last legislative session, which would put the amendment on the ballot, however they did not move forward.

“What we’ve heard is they have a lot on their plate right now between COVID and the criminal justice reforms they’re looking at,” said Kashkari. “We’d love it if they could address it in the special session.”

We asked the pair if they feel there is momentum to support the legislation.

“If we don’t move it forward than we as a society will suffer,” said Page.

Research from the Minneapolis Federal Reserve shows several other states use language similar to what they’re proposing.

There are critics of the amendment, however, including constitutional law expert David Schultz. He teaches at both the Hamline University and the University of Minnesota Law schools.

“If we try to understand the sources of the racial disparities in education, it’s not about the law, it’s about a whole bunch of other forces,” he said. “It’s about the fact that in Minneapolis we have a highly segregated city by race and income. It’s about disparities in healthcare and disparities in income. It’s about a variety of other issues that come to bear in terms of how it affects education.”

“One of the things we’ve learned over the last 50 years in looking at the courts and social change is there’s limits to how far the law can go in and of itself. That’s the first concern here- it’s a narrow, narrow sense of how to address the problem.”

Schultz went on to say, “We know that there are many outside forces that influence learning, economics, society, support for families structures that again this amendment ignores.”

He also disagrees with focusing political energy on this amendment, rather than the changes that he believes are necessary to improve the education system.

Education Minnesota has also opposed the legislation, arguing the legislature should focus on and immediately fund programs like full-service community schools, cultural competency training, and programs that recruit more teachers of color.

In addition, the union has concerns it could lead to a drawn-out fight between the courts and legislature rather than addressing students’ urgent needs.

They are also worried about deleting the language “uniform system”.

The union writes, “Removing uniformity clauses from state constitutions is part of a national strategy of right-wing think tanks. These clauses have been a barrier to voucher laws, which provide public funding to private schools that can, and do, discriminate against students for their gender, religion or physical and cognitive abilities.“

Kashkari and Page disagree with that argument.

“The state would have no higher obligation than to ensure quality public schools and so I have a hard time understanding the argument that somehow this leads to vouchers,” said Page. “Under our proposed language the legislature could not go down the voucher road at the expense of quality public education.”

Under a voucher system, the government helps pay for students to attend the school of their choice. Vouchers are currently used in more than a dozen other states.