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Minnesota leaders search for answers on educational disparity gap

Constitutional amendment is goal of Federal Reserve, former Supreme Court justice

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Former Minnesota Vikings star and Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Alan Page speaks to promote a state constitutional amendment to improve the disparity gap in education achievement in the state during a stop at Minnesota State University Moorhead on Thursday, Nov. 18, 2021. David Samson / The Forum
Forum Communications Co.

MOORHEAD, Minn. — It seems like strange partners in an effort to improve the growing educational disparity gap in Minnesota that is among the worst in the nation.

A leader in the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, along with retired Supreme Court Justice Alan Page, stopped at Minnesota State University Moorhead on Thursday night, Nov. 18, for a live and virtual meeting to bring attention to the issue and offer solutions.

Page said their joint goal is a Minnesota constitutional amendment that first must pass through the Minnesota Legislature before going to the state voters.

The amendment would guarantee a civil right to a quality education for all state children. Proponents hope the Legislature in the upcoming session this winter approves putting it on the ballot next fall.

Page said it could be the "stick" needed to bring about change, as he said statistics show that students of color and from low-income backgrounds are being left behind.

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The longtime associate justice, who has an educational foundation he formed with his wife, Diane, said it's a problem for "all of us" to try to fix.

Why? He said every child left behind, whether urban or rural, increases the chance for a "diminished" taxpayer, employee and contributor to society. He added those students today will be "paying our Social Security" in the future, too.

"So, it's in our own self-interest," he said. Of course, that's in addition to the morality of leaving students behind, too, he added.

The vice president of community development for the Federal Reserve in Minneapolis, Alene Tchourumoff, agreed it is an economic issue and that's why they are involved.

"It's a matter of our future prosperity," she said.

Tchourumoff also agreed it's a problem for "all of us to work on" and that's why the Federal Reserve is interested as its stated goals are to achieve maximum employment and stable prices.

"If something isn't done now, when?" she asked.

The educational disparity gap is growing, according to numerous reports, and it spans all parts of the state, with the Federal Reserve calling it a "statewide crisis" in a report from last year.

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The achievement gaps are evident in standardized test scores, graduation rates and college readiness, according to the report. Those falling behind are many Hispanic, Black and Native American students.

So what concrete steps can be taken, asked MSUM provost Arrick Jackson.

Page thinks the constitutional amendment is the "catalyst for real change" that will help create an educational system that addresses each child individually.

Tchourumoff suggested increased early childhood education could be a great starting point, too.

Kevin Lindsey, another panelist at the meeting who is the state's former human rights commissioner and current head of the Minnesota Humanities Council, said curriculum changes are part of the answer, too.

He asked people to name three Hispanic persons who were part of their history studies in school. The suggestion was there likely weren't any.

Lindsey raised another point about the disparity in school suspensions which can cause some students to fall behind or drop out.

The statistics directly gleaned from school districts shows Black males in Minnesota were eight times more likely to be suspended in Minnesota while the national average is three times and for Native Americans the males are 10 times more likely to be suspended in the state, compared to the national average of five times.

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The most common reason for a suspension, he said, is an "interaction with an adult" that has gone wrong.

Another cause of suspensions is the child doesn't show up for class. "So then you don't let them come to school?" Page asked. "That's fundamentally wrong."

Another panelist, Anna Wasescha, president of the West Central Initiative that works to improve lives in this part of the state, said she believes teachers need to regain more respect and also to have higher incomes.

Lindsey added there are multiple questions and answers to what can be done.

For now, the constitutional amendment, being called the Page Amendment, has been introduced in the Legislature.

Lindsey said it's "hard to tell" if it'll gain traction among legislators, with some passionate about the issue while others think the amendment could have negative consequences.

Unlike in football, Page, who was a defensive line star for the Minnesota Vikings and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1988, said that if they win in this situation, it doesn't mean that anyone is losing.

If the disparity gap is addressed, he said everyone can win and everyone can be lifted up.

Related Topics: EDUCATIONMINNESOTA
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