The Potluck

Lawmakers introduce bill to amend constitution to address education gaps

By: - February 25, 2020 2:37 pm

A bipartisan pair of state legislators introduced a bill Tuesday to amend the Minnesota Constitution to address Minnesota’s achievement gaps in education.

The bill, introduced by State Reps. Rena Moran, DFL-St. Paul, and Rep. Ron Kresha, R-Little Falls, comes from a proposal by Minneapolis Federal Reserve President Neel Kashkari and retired state Supreme Court Justice Alan Page to amend the state constitution with a clause stating that “all children have a fundamental right to a quality public education.”

Page and Kashkari launched the amendment campaign in January, following a Minneapolis Fed report that showed that Minnesota has some of the nation’s worst racial disparities in education. 

Advocates say the new language — which would replace a clause requiring the Legislature “establish a general and uniform system of public schools” — could call attention to inequalities, spur legislative action and give families leverage to sue over substandard education.

The proposal has attracted a diverse group of supporters, including Attorney General Keith Ellison and business and education leaders. More than 30 lawmakers signed onto the House bill.

Education Minnesota, the union representing 80,000 educators, came out in opposition to the proposal almost immediately after it was unveiled by Page and Kashkari, saying that the issue is school funding, not constitutional language.

The union reiterated its criticisms in a series of tweets Tuesday. A post from the Education Minnesota Twitter account reads, “The state constitution isn’t our problem. Our problem is a lack of political will to fully fund the schools 9 out of 10 Minnesota students attend — our public schools.”

If approved by both the House and the Senate, the proposal would appear on the ballot during the 2020 general election as a question: “Shall the Minnesota constitution be amended to provide that all children have an equal right to a quality public education?”, according to a press release from the House of Representatives. Ratification would require a “yes” from a majority of voters.

If the proposal were adopted, Minnesota would be the second state in the nation to make providing a quality education for all children a primary duty of its government, based on information compiled by the Federal Reserve. 

University of Washington researcher Paul Hill told Minnesota Reformer earlier this month that the language would give Minnesota the “strongest statement of entitlement to a quality education in the country.”

Still, an amendment wouldn’t be a straightforward solution to the state’s achievement gap. Without a targeted effort to understand and address the roots of Minnesota’s educational disparities, which extend far beyond classrooms, the change wouldn’t improve outcomes, experts say. Plus, equity lawsuits move slowly, meaning families likely wouldn’t see the effects of litigation for years — if lawsuits are successful.

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Rilyn Eischens
Rilyn Eischens

Rilyn Eischens is a former data reporter for the Minnesota Reformer. Rilyn was born and raised in Minnesota 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.