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Our View: Don't let Page Amendment become a partisan battle in St. Paul

From the editorial: "The impetus that educators, parents, and others need to enact transformational change that finally addresses the achievement gaps in our schools is long overdue."

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Nate Beeler / Cagle Cartoons

Already it’s expected to be one of the biggest debates of the Minnesota legislative session — and rightly so. Amending or altering the state constitution should never be undertaken lightly or without thorough, all-inclusive consideration.

However, the Page Amendment — to give Minnesota families the right to hold the state accountable for providing quality education to all students — stands to qualify as an exception. Its promise to be the impetus that educators, parents, and others need to enact transformational change that finally addresses the achievement gaps in our schools is long overdue.

“We have an unjust system, and it’s time for that to change,” Alan Page, former Minnesota Supreme Court justice and Minnesota Vikings great, said in a hype video released ahead of the legislative session that began just this week. The video was created and distributed by Our Children MN, an organization created specifically to pass the Page Amendment — “a catalyst for change,” as Page called it.

“Leaving children behind hurts us all. (We need to instead be) preparing them for the future in a way that will allow them to achieve whatever their hopes and dreams are,” Page also said in the video. “Our future depends on ensuring that all children have the opportunity to perform at their highest level.”

The amendment to the Minnesota state constitution, which was written in 1857, would update its provision calling for an "adequate" public education to require “quality” public education instead, making it a civil right.

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"Adequate is not good enough," Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis President Neel Kashkari, a pusher of the Page Amendment, said in a November interview with the News Tribune Editorial Board. “And then (let's) make delivering on that right the state's highest priority.”

Minnesota’s reputation for having some of the country's best public schools applies nowadays disproportionately to families with money — or who aren't Black, Indigenous, or of color. Only 37% of those "other" students are proficient in math and reading, compared to 65% of students from wealthier families, according to wake-up research released in 2020 by Kashkari’s Minneapolis Federal Reserve. The data further showed that only 30% of Black students were performing at grade level, compared to 65% of white students in Minnesota. And only 25% of Black students were college-ready, compared to 69% of white students.

The sobering stats persist in spite of decades of work and the efforts of generations of well-meaning politicians, educators, parents, and others to identify and fix why Minnesota struggles to effectively educate low-income as well as more-affluent students and students of color as well as white students.

Getting it fixed is critical because, as Kashkari stated, "Education is literally the most powerful tool we have to address poverty.” One big problem? “We're too politically divided,” he said. “Both parties care about education, but they don't agree on the solutions. So what do they do? They make little minor tweaks around the margins of the system rather than fundamentally upgrading the system itself."

The Page Amendment promises the transformative change so long needed.

It’s no wonder then that the proposed amendment enjoys bipartisan support. On the right are elected leaders like Republican Rep. Ron Kresha of Little Falls. He likened quality education to oxygen in an interview a year ago with WCCO Radio. "If you're getting plenty of it, it's not a problem," he said. And on the left are progressives including DFL Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison. He said in March 2020 that making "paramount quality public education as a fundamental right for our kids is a value statement."

As the News Tribune acknowledged in an editorial last year, amending the constitution has its critics, most notably the state teachers union, Education Minnesota. However, the proposed amendment's repeated mention of "public" education should allay concerns that this is an attempt to privatize education or to introduce vouchers. And it's difficult to see how designating public education as the state's highest priority could lead to reducing state spending for it.

Lawmakers this session — Republicans and DFLers alike, from both the House and Senate — can find common ground in the amendment's promise to finally close achievement and opportunity gaps. Pushing partisanship aside, the Legislature can send the Page Amendment to voters in November, allowing Minnesotans to vote to transform public education so it serves all students — both the wealthier and the poorer and both white students and students of color.

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“This is just not a political issue. It’s about children and about our future as a state. This is also about our economy,” Sondra Samuels, president and CEO of Northside Achievement Zone, a nonprofit working to close the achievement gap and end generational poverty in North Minneapolis, said in last week’s hype video. “For us to realize the dream of Minnesota, Minnesota must change.”

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DNT

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