The Potluck

Some prominent Minnesotans want to amend the state constitution for education

By: - January 14, 2020 6:00 am

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Former Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Alan Page and Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis President Neel Kashkari want to amend the state’s constitution to say “all children have a fundamental right to a quality public education.”

The proposal has garnered mixed reaction, with both the state teachers union and state Sen. Carla Nelson, R-Rochester, coming out against it. The amendment would “bring lawsuits and expensive attorney fees, shift power from parents, teachers and locally accountable and elected public officials to unelected courts and justices,” said Nelson, who chairs the Senate Education Committee. 

What would it take to actually amend the Minnesota Constitution?

It would start in the Legislature, where a majority of lawmakers in both the House and the Senate would need to pass an act proposing the change. The process would be the same as passing any other bill into law, but if approved, the act wouldn’t land on the governor’s desk for a signature or veto. 

Instead, it would go to voters. The proposal would appear on the ballot during a general election as a question, without the full text of the proposed amendment — for example, in 2012 voters were asked “Shall the Minnesota Constitution be amended to require all voters to present valid photo identification to vote and to require the state to provide free identification to eligible voters, effective July 1, 2013?”

Ratification requires a “yes” vote from a majority of voters who submit ballots, not just a majority of those who vote on the amendment question. This means leaving the amendment question blank is effectively the same as voting “no.” In the past, ratification has required a “yes” from about 60% of voters, according to the Minnesota House Research Department.

The first proposed amendments to the Minnesota Constitution were ratified in 1858, shortly after legislators approved the Constitution itself. Since then, residents have voted on 213 proposed constitutional amendments on topics and approved 120.

If passed by the legislature, the proposed amendment would be the sixth put to a vote during the 21st century.

Since 2000, Minnesota voters have approved three amendments: one to use the car sales tax for highways, another to increase the sales and use tax rate and a third to allow a council to establish legislator salaries. Two proposals were not ratified: one to define marriage as between one man and one woman, and another to require photo ID for voting.

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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.