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To Close Minnesota’s Achievement Gap, 2 Leaders Propose Amending The State Constitution

To Close Minnesota’s Achievement Gap, 2 Leaders Propose Amending The State Constitution

achievement gap
Alan Page and Neel Kashkari want to amend Minnesota’s Constitution to close the state’s academic achievement gap with a carrot and stick amendment. If it fails, parents can sue. As Minnesota Supreme Court Justice, Alan Page hears arguments on the Voter ID ballot in St. Paul, July 17, 2012. (AP Photo/The Star Tribune, Glenn Stube, Pool). Neel Kashkari, former assistant treasury secretary in charge of the bailout program, speaks at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., Jan. 8, 2009. (AP Photo/Haraz N. Ghanbari).

Former Minneapolis Supreme Court Justice Alan Page and Federal Reserve Bank President Neel Kashkari want to amend Minnesota’s Constitution to close the state’s academic achievement gap — one of the worst in the U.S.

It’s a matter of urgency, they say, and Minnesota voters will get to decide in the fall whether the proposed amendment goes on the 2020 ballot.

Minnesota has some of the worst educational disparities by race and socioeconomic status in the country, according to a recent report from the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.

The state has spent billions of dollars and made “countless good faith efforts” to solve the achievement gap, but keeps “getting the same poor results,” Page said at an interview Tuesday, as reported in the Star Tribune.

These disparities are seen across race and income, traditional public and charter schools, and in both urban and rural areas of the state.

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The disparities represent a statewide crisis, according to the fed report:

  • Racial and income gaps have increased in standardized test scores and college readiness.
  • Minnesota is graduating an increasing proportion of students who are unprepared for college.
  • Educational disparities are not confined to race. Low-income white students significantly trail higher-income white students across Minnesota.
  • Disparities span district and charter schools.

Page and Kashkari propose amending the Constitution’s education clause, which is much the same as when it was written in 1857. Most states have amended their constitutions. Minnesota is lagging, they said.

The state Supreme Court has interpreted the existing constitution calling for a “uniform system of public schools” to mean that students have a fundamental right to an adequate education system, Kashkari and Page said.

The amendment would serve as both carrot and stick, giving all children the right to a quality education and requiring the state to meet measurable standards. Failing that, it gives parents and children legal recourse.

“We could use the legal system to truly put children first in the eyes of the law,” Page said.

Kashkari and Page spent a year working on the proposal, speaking to people across the state and seeking bipartisan support. “When most people hear about this idea, it’s so out-of-the-box they need more time to think about it,” Kashkari said.

Gov. Tim Walz’s spokesperson said the governor “is glad to see the Fed and business community championing educational outcomes for all Minnesota children, and he looks forward to working with them to ensure that every child has access to a world class education, regardless of their race or their ZIP code.”

Kashkari and Page released statements from more than a dozen supporters including business executives, suggesting the proposal could win support across the board.

Narrowing the gap is “an economic and moral imperative,” according to Charlie Weaver, executive director of the Minnesota Business Partnership.

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For 30 years, Page’s nonprofit Page Education Foundation has worked to create heroes through education and service by encouraging Black Minnesota students and students of color to go to college. In exchange for financial support, recipients known as Page Scholars, mentor younger children.

In 1992, Page became the first African American on the Minnesota Supreme Court and one of the few associate justices ever to join the court initially through election rather than appointment by the governor. When Justice Page was reelected in 1998, he became the biggest vote-getter in Minnesota history. Law was Page’s second career. He played football in college and in the NFL, leading Notre Dame to the 1966 national championship, and got inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1993. In November 2018, Justice Page received the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Kashkari began his career as an aerospace engineer developing technology for NASA before joining Goldman Sachs, where he helped tech companies raise capital. After holding senior positions at the U.S. Department of the Treasury, he was confirmed as assistant secretary of the Treasury in 2008. Kashkari won the Alexander Hamilton Award, the Treasury Department’s highest honor for distinguished service, for his role during the financial crisis overseeing the Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP). In 2014, Kashkari ran for governor of California on a platform focused on economic opportunity. He became president and CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis on Jan. 1, 2016.

Page and Kashkari argue that similar amendments have helped improve education in other states, for example, Florida, whose constitutional clause states that the education of children is a fundamental value of the citizens and a paramount duty of the state.

“Since they passed their transformational amendment in 1998 … they’ve made some of the strongest gains in closing the achievement gap in the country,” Kashkari said.