Amendment would set new education standard

Published 3:05 pm Saturday, February 28, 2009

One of the responsibilities I take most seriously as a state legislator is to advocate for our public education system so every child in the state can receive a high quality education. Unfortunately, over the past few years we have watched school districts struggle under the burden of budget cuts, inadequate funding, declining enrollment and unfunded mandates.

To make matters worse, great inequities exist in schools with regard to funding. Those located in property rich districts can have as much as several thousand dollars more to spend on each student than schools in property poor districts. As a result, the students in the wealthier districts have smaller class sizes, better textbooks and technology, and a wider range of class and extracurricular offerings.

By contrast, students in poorer districts lag behind in overcrowded classrooms with scarce resources. At this time of serious economic challenges, we cannot afford to let any student leave high school without the skills they need to compete in our increasingly competitive global market. They all deserve up-to-date technology, the most advanced class offerings, and the rich social and cultural environment found in our top schools.

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In an effort to set the standard for a 21st century approach to school funding, I have co-authored legislation that would amend the state constitution, adding language that addresses the inequalities that are occurring in school districts and strengthens the long-standing tradition of excellence in Minnesota’s schools. Our forefathers were wise to establish a tax-supported system of public schools as a primary duty of the state Legislature. However, the language they used no longer applies over 150 years later. Simply requiring a “general and uniform system of public schools” just isn’t good enough anymore.

If passed, the amendment would make the following changes: current language in Article XIII of the constitution reads “it is the duty of the Legislature to establish a general and uniform system of public schools.” The proposed change would read, “to establish a high quality and uniform system of public schools.”

In another sentence, the current language reads “the Legislature shall make such provisions by taxation or otherwise…” The proposed change would insert the words “the Legislature shall make such provisions to provide equitable and adequate funding…”

This is not a fiscal bill, but rather a policy bill that would set a new standard for education in Minnesota, a benchmark that will serve as a reminder of where our real priorities lie. I’m hopeful this amendment will be put before the voters in 2010 to help assure every child in the state of their right to a good education under the Constitution, regardless of their zip code.

As always, I am honored to serve. Please continue to be a part of the process by contacting me with your concerns and suggestions. I can be reached at (651) 296-8216, or by e-mail at