Leaders seek to close state’s academic gap

Published 10:59 pm Wednesday, January 8, 2020

MINNEAPOLIS — Two prominent leaders have proposed an amendment to the Minnesota Constitution aimed at closing the state’s dismal academic achievement gap.

The proposal comes from Alan Page, a former Minnesota Supreme Court justice, and Neel Kashkari, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. They want to change the state’s constitution to guarantee all children the fundamental right to a quality public education.

Page and Kashkari said in an interview that making quality education a civil right for all children is the catalyst that’s needed to break the logjam that has blocked effective reform.

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Even though Minnesota has spent billions of dollars to solve the problem, the state still has some of the worst educational disparities in the nation, as measured by race and socioeconomic status, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.

Courts have interpreted the Minnesota Constitution as giving students a fundamental right to an “adequate” education. Page and Kashkari want to raise that standard to a “quality” education.

Page and Kashkari said similar amendments have driven improvements in other states.

To amend the Minnesota Constitution, they’ll need the Legislature’s approval to put the question to voters. The two hope to get it on the ballot this fall.

But they’ll face opposition from the state’s powerful teachers’ union, Education Minnesota, which said it will resist the proposal.

The union’s president, Denise Specht, said in a statement Wednesday that the proposal as worded would remove the constitution’s requirement that the state fund a uniform system of public education for every child. She said that would pave the way for taxpayer funding of vouchers for private schools. The amendment would also favor parents with the resources to hire attorneys to advocate for their children, possibly at the expense of families with fewer resources.

“Educators have solutions ready and waiting for funding,” Specht said. “The Legislature needs to fully fund public education. It needs to do it right now.”