Bipartisan group of lawmakers introduces education amendment proposal

    Photo by Maja Hitij/Getty Images from a high school classroom in Berlin, Germany, August 2020.

    A bipartisan group of Minnesota lawmakers are proposing to amend the state’s constitution with language they say would guarantee a quality education for all children.

    Minneapolis Federal Reserve President Neel Kashkari and retired state Supreme Court Justice Alan Page — the latter a Democrat, the former a Republican — launched the campaign to amend the constitution in early 2020. The House measure puts the proposal one step closer to making it on the ballot for voters to decide, as early as 2022.

    The plan has drawn support from legislators in both parties, as well as education advocates and business leaders. They say the amendment would help close Minnesota’s racial disparities in education, which are among the worst in the nation, by spurring legislative action.

    Education Minnesota — the state’s teachers’ union that represents 70,000 educators — strongly opposes the amendment, and some Democrats are on the fence. The union argues it would lead to an increase in private school vouchers and lawsuits that would distract schools from their mission.

    Education scholars told the Reformer last year that a constitutional amendment could be a powerful mechanism for change but wouldn’t be a straightforward solution. Without a targeted effort to understand and address the roots of Minnesota’s educational disparities, the change wouldn’t improve outcomes, researchers said. 

    The education clause of the state constitution currently 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.”

    The proposed language 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.”

    To make the suggestion a reality, legislators would first need to approve the language, and then it would appear on the ballot during a general election. Ratification would require a “yes” from a majority of voters.

    The House bill is co-authored by Democratic state Reps. Hodan Hassan of Minneapolis, Carlos Mariani of St. Paul, Samantha Vang of Brooklyn Center, Jay Xiong of St. Paul, John Thompson of St. Paul, and Tou Xiong of Maplewood; and Republican Reps. Ron Kresha of Little Falls, Sondra Erickson of Princeton, Jon Koznick of Lakeville, Tama Theis of St. Cloud, Barb Haley of Red Wing, and Joe Schomacker of Luverne.

    The proposal has not been introduced in the Senate.

    Rilyn Eischens
    Rilyn Eischens is a data reporter with the Reformer. Rilyn is a Minnesota native and has worked in newsrooms in the Twin Cities, Iowa, Texas and most recently Virginia, where she covered education for The Staunton News Leader. She's an alumna of the Dow Jones News Fund data journalism program and the Minnesota Daily. When Rilyn isn't in the newsroom, she likes to read, add to her plant collection and try new recipes.