MINNEAPOLIS — Monday, there were more people than chairs in a meeting room at the Federal Reserve Building.
People interested in educating all children and closing the achievement gap attended a community conversation.
Former Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Alan Page and Neil Kashkari, President of the Federal Reserve in Minneapolis, outlined their initiative to close the achievement gap. They propose a constitutional amendment to guarantee quality education
“We want people to understand we have these disparities in performance academically for children of color and for economically disadvantaged white children,” Page told KARE 11. “Those gaps in performance are unconscionable.”
A report from the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis told us what we already know: The achievement gap in Minnesota is the worst in the nation.
So how does changing the constitution help?
“It is creating a civil right in the best tradition of this country," Kashkari said citing voting rights examples. “It leads to structural change. Here I am, typical kid son of immigrants and I get to go and become the president of the Federal Reserve in Minneapolis. Only because of the fact I got a good education. For me, the fact that that is not available to every child in America is a national tragedy.”
Page said Minnesota can move the needle in a positive direction if “the legislature and the rest of state government create policy and procedures that work.”
The proposed language says "All children have a fundamental right to a quality public education that fully prepares them with the skills necessary for participation in the economy, our democracy, and society, as measured against uniform achievement standards set forth by the state. It is a paramount duty of the state to ensure quality public schools that fulfill this fundamental right."
The current constitution has no mandate for quality education for all children.
The language from the current constitution, enacted in 1857 reads: “The stability of a republican form of government depending mainly upon the intelligence of the people, it is the duty of the legislature to establish a general and uniform system of public schools. The legislature shall make such provisions by taxation or otherwise as will secure a thorough and efficient system of public schools throughout the state.”
But there are some critics including Education Minnesota who released the following statement: "The proposed amendment would remove the requirement for a 'uniform' system of public education from the state constitution. This strategy paves the way for taxpayer-funded vouchers for private schools, which may discriminate against certain students."
Conservative think tanks and advocacy groups, including the American Legislative Exchange Council, have advocated for similar changes to state constitutions around the country.
The amendment proposed by Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis President Neel Kashkari, the 2014 Republican nominee for governor of California, and former Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Alan Page creates a situation in which any parent could bring a lawsuit against the state and their school.
“No, it won't do that,” Page said. “The proposed amendment says it is the paramount duty of the state to ensure quality public schools that will fulfill all children's fundamental right.”
Critics also say the amendment favors families who can hire attorneys to advocate for their children.
But for now, it is a proposal that needs backing from lawmakers.
Supporters hope to get it on the November ballot for voters to decide.