The Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis issued a report in October 2019 calling the education gaps in Minnesota a statewide crisis. Racial and income achievement gaps in standardized tests, college readiness, and graduation rates are both significant and growing. In fact, Minnesota has one of the largest achievement gaps in the nation. Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis’ President Neel Kashkari and former Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Alan Page are taking action to close these gaps and give all our children a chance to succeed. Their push is to amend the Minnesota constitution, which was adopted in 1857, ensure a quality public education is a basic human right.
“The winners in this amendment are children. Everybody we meet with says they want to put children first – this is the chance to finally do that.” – Neel Kashkari
“It’s about changing the future for the children of Minnesota, and I guess you can say that is bold.” – Alan Page
The language change would move away from providing a “general and uniform system of public schools”, which when created in 1850’s did not account for ethnically diverse peoples, women, or low-income students; to establishing a that 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.” The comparison in language can be found here.
The Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis points to case studies from other states like Florida, North Carolina, and Louisiana which updated their state’s constitution in a similar fashion. Over time, these states made significant improvements in their education systems to better serve all students and significantly closed achievement gaps. These success stories help chart a path forward to closing Minnesota’s achievement gaps.
Northwest Minnesota Foundation’s Vice President for Advocacy, Nate Dorr, was at the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis for the event in January 2020. “It was truly inspiring to hear our state’s top officials bring forward structural changes to public education through a constitutional amendment. The systems in place when the document was draft in 1857 were not meant to benefit every child, but only the children of those in power at that time.” Dorr sees this constitutional amendment as a value statement, that the state values all people and must provide everyone a quality education that prepares them for the real world.
Educators and business leaders also presented in panel discussions at the event. Their call to action is to not overlook our children with the greatest needs or barriers to success. Not to give up when it gets difficult, but take the long term view.
The event closed with Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison’s keynote. Ellison enthusiastically supports this amendment, noting that we are not fighting for an education system that is simply good enough. Instead, we need to provide relevant programming, retain high-quality teachers, utilize data for continuous improvement, and support students and families through individualized services.
How we get it all done is yet to be determined. But agreeing that quality public education is a basic human right in Minnesota is a necessary first step.