Minnesotans may have the opportunity to vote on a proposed amendment to the Minnesota State Constitution making it a civil right that all children receive a quality public education.

In keeping with its tradition of bringing current topics to voters, the League of Women Voters of the Park Rapids Area hosted a presentation on the topic. The virtual event was held Wednesday, March 24, featuring former Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Alan Page and Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis President Neel Kashkari. They have been advancing the idea that Minnesota needs a constitutional amendment that will put “children first.”

Called the Page Amendment, it must be passed through majority vote in a statewide election. The next election when it may be considered is Nov. 11, 2022.

Gaps in public education

After a recent study uncovered that Minnesota has some of the worst education achievement gaps in the nation, Page and Kashkari partnered to fight the inequity. The education gaps are present in all 87 Minnesota counties and persist over many years, they say.

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Kashkari explained, “These gaps are racial disparities, so the gaps between white students and children of color – black, Hispanic, Indigenous – but they’re also socioeconomic gaps. Low-income white children across Minnesota are badly trailing their middle-class and more well-to-do peers.”

Other states have adopted educational amendments and made real progress in elevating children, Kashkari said, particularly Florida.

“The most powerful tool any of us knows to break the cycle of poverty is, in fact, education. It struck us that politics seems to be getting in the way,” he said.

The Page Amendment aims to inject quality by ensuring that the state mandates that quality public education is offered to all children.

Minnesota’s constitution was established in 1857. The current education clause says it is the state government’s duty to establish an “adequate” and “uniform” system for public schools.

The proposed new education clause would 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.”

Page said the current education system “has systematically failed large groups of children in Minnesota. They’re children who, as a result of that failure, are diminished customers, diminished employees and diminished taxpayers and potentially more likely to be involved in our criminal justice system, in our social services system, and we think that we can do better.”

The amendment shifts focus to children – all children – and puts them first, Page said, adding that families would have an avenue to address inequities through the judicial branch.

State Rep. Ron Kresha for District 9B (R-Little Falls) voiced his support for the amendment, noting he is a former English teacher and an advocate for school choice. “The reality is we need to re-engineer the entire education and focus on the kids, not the system.”

Kashkari said other states with education clauses have found it resulted in more school funding, more legislative action, higher salaries for teachers, smaller class sizes, better outcomes for kids and no increase in litigation.