Education amendment highlights racial disparities: A look at the data

February 27, 2020 1:11 am

A bipartisan group of lawmakers proposed an amendment to the Minnesota Constitution Tuesday that would mandate that “all children have a fundamental right to a quality public education.”

The proposed amendment is the brainchild of former Supreme Court Justice Alan Page and Minneapolis Federal Reserve President Neel Kashkari. Minnesota has “some of the worse educational disparities in the nation,” according to a recent study by the Fed

What’s this all about?

Minnesota’s education system as a whole performs well compared to other states. A 2019 study places Minnesota 6th in the nation for our public schools. Minnesota is 2nd in the nation for educational attainment — 50% of Minnesotan adults had earned at least an associate’s degree as of 2015. 

This success has not been shared broadly across all Minnesota communities, however. Data from the Minnesota Department of Education illuminates the issue:

The Ciresi Walburn Foundation For Children has recently tried to raise public awareness concerning outcome disparities for students of color in Minnesota. You may have seen a billboard recently:

Data from the National Center for Education Statistics shows the stark contrast in outcomes for Minnesota students. Nationally, the high school graduation gap between white and black students is 11% — 89% for whites vs. 78% of Black students graduate. In Minnesota, the gap is a yawning 23% gap, making it the worst in the nation. 

What’s the cause of the disparities?

Identifying causes in disparate outcomes between white students and students of color is the first step in formulating solutions. Affordable housing, stable jobs for parents and health care are all related to student success. The relative levels of poverty in Minnesota provide an important clue about educational attainment. Data from the MN Dept. Of Health shows the following:

The poverty rate for white Minnesotans is about 7%, but 26% for Black Minnesotans. The data suggest a tight correlation between poverty and a lack of educational attainment.

Nearly one in four Minnesotans with less than a high school education is in poverty. And children are more likely to live in poverty than adults. Nearly 12% of Minnesotan children were in poverty, according to the 2017 data. Given that correlation between poverty and educational achievement, Minnesota should address poverty, and the related issues poverty causes with respect to education. 


A change to the Minnesota Constitution in itself may not close the education gap, but the conversation surrounding the change is important to translate research findings into concrete outcomes. In recent years, research into educational interventions has proliferated. One focal point of this research has been the efficacy of pre-kindergarten intervention.

The most common interventions among the youngest children are new preschool programs for underperforming communities, which provide extra childcare, early child development professionals and parent education. 

The research tells us that early interventions in toddler age and preschool, as opposed to middle and high school, are more effective.  

Given limited resources, the Legislature should invest what it can in early childhood — and the sooner the better.

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