(The Center Square) – Changing 41 words in the Minnesota constitution could prompt major shifts in public education throughout the state.
The Page Amendment, as proposed by former Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Alan Page and Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis President and CEO Neel Kashkari, would modify the following clause:
“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.”
to instead read:
“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 duty of the state established in this section does not infringe on the right of a parent to choose for their child a private, religious, or home school as an alternative to public education.”
Lobbyists are again seeking the proposal’s majority approval in the House and Senate, Minn Post reported. Voters would then weigh in via the November election ballot.
The push for the measure began in 2020 following the 2019 Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis study that indicated public education in the North Star state has some of the largest socioeconomic and race achievement gaps. The disparities are across the state and across population densities, the report found.
While Minnesota fourth-grade reading and eighth-grade math test scores are higher than national average based on analysis of National Assessment of Educational Progress data, White students score about 20% higher compared with Black students and 18% higher compared with Hispanic students in fourth-grade reading evaluations, the report said. Fourth-grade reading achievement gaps between White students and American Indian students have increased by about 19% over the past 20 years. Eighth-grade math score disparities are similar, the report said. There are also disparities in college readiness scores.
Perspectives on the proposed amendment vary.
Education Minnesota said in a handout that constitutional lawsuit cases could be a pointless, drawn-out fight.
“Minnesota schools are in crisis because our state doesn’t have enough elected officials with the political will to address the funding problem seriously,” the document said. “No amount of lawsuits will change that, but voters can.”
It criticized the proposed amendment’s deletion of “such provisions by taxation or otherwise” and “general and uniform system of public schools” as removing obligation of public funding for schools and encouraging vouchers.
Our Children, the 501(c)(4) coalition promoting the constitutional amendment, said in an FAQ that the amendment does not address funding.
“The state will be responsible for funding and other tactics to ensure that that civil right is being met including determining funding formulas to meet the quality education standard for all children,” it said.
Controversy doesn’t stop there.
Center of the American Experiment Senior Policy Fellow Peter Nelson wrote that the think tank is trying to stop the Federal Bank of Minneapolis from using federal dollars in lobbying to amend the clause, saying it may violate the Anti-Lobbying Act of 1919.
“Most pertinent to Kashkari and his staff, the prohibition now extends to lobbying with the purpose of influencing any government policy at every level of government, not just members of Congress,” Nelson said. “Therefore, federal law now prohibits lobbying to influence state legislators and citizen votes on a ballot measure.”
Nelson said the bank’s web page promoting the adoption of the amendment is an example of grassroots lobbying.
“Unfortunately, the public now has good cause to question whether the Minneapolis Fed is advancing a political agenda through its research and education arm,” Nelson said. “It’s one thing to produce research on a particular economic policy from an independent perspective as the Fed regularly provides—such as research on the minimum wage or the housing market – but that independence falls away when research turns to advocacy.”