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Page Amendment: Push to change constitution to close education gaps returns to MN Capitol

The Page Amendment would change the state Constitution to make quality education a civil right.

A proposal to change the Minnesota Constitution to address the gaps in the state's public education system has been reintroduced at the state Capitol. 

The Page Amendment, which is named after Alan Page – a former Minnesota Supreme Court Justice, equitable education advocate, and former Vikings player – would change the constitution to say that children have a fundamental right to quality education. 

This would give families the ability to go to court if they feel their civil right to quality education has been compromised, says a news release from Our Children MN, an organization created to increase support for the Page Amendment and highlight the state's problematic and well-documented education gap.

The bill (HF 874), which is sponsored by House Committee on Education Policy Vice Chair Rep. Hodan Hassan, DFL-Minneapolis, aims to get the proposed amendment on the 2022 general election ballot. 

“Our legislature faces societal issues every day. Housing, the criminal justice system, healthcare, and unemployment. What’s necessary to address all of these issues is a strong public education. We can’t fix generational poverty and inequality without it,” Hassan said in a statement. “It is a tangible solution to addressing the issues that Minnesotans are facing today, including an abhorrent number of Black, Indigenous, and people of color children in Minnesota.”

To amend the state constitution, the House and Senate must approve it by a simple majority in the same legislative session and then it must be ratified by a majority of voters in an election.

The bill would ask voters: "Shall the Minnesota Constitution be amended to provide that all children have a fundamental right to a quality public education and establish that quality public schools are a paramount duty of the state?"

The Page Amendment was first proposed during the 2020 legislative session, but the effort was put on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Minneapolis Federal Reserve Bank President Neel Kashkari and Page first proposed the Page Amendment last year after research from the Minneapolis Fed showed Minnesota has some of the worst educational disparities in the country. 

In 2019, Kashkari and Page started meeting with elected officials and other stakeholders to discuss updating the language in the constitution to make education a civil right. The education portion of the constitution hasn't changed since it was enacted in 1857.

Last year, Kashkari said a "bold approach to transform education" in Minnesota is needed because the state has made "virtually no progress" in its attempts to close the achievement gap over the past two decades.

"Updating our constitution by making quality education a civil right for all children will put power in the hands of families, where it belongs," Page said in a statement in January 2020. "This proposal will hold the state accountable to ensuring all children are getting the education they deserve."

What the bill would do

If approved, the Page Amendment would make education a civil right in Minnesota and change the constitutional mandate from "the uniformity or efficiency of the system" to "the quality of public education offered to people," Our Children MN says.

Lastly, and most significantly, the Page Amendment would allow families to address educational inequities in court if their child's civil right to quality education is compromised. 

Some support, some skeptics 

The Page Amendment has bipartisan support in the Minnesota House, as well as from some business groups, Attorney General Keith Ellison, parents, 10 tribal nations and parents, according to Our Children MN.

“Minnesota children need and deserve an education system that is focused on them, one that is investing in their potential and their outcomes,” Rep. Ron Kresha, R- Little Falls, said in a statement. “In the last 20 years, the legislature has passed 122 education bills, all focused on structures within the public education system. 

"The Page Amendment is holistic and targets the system. I believe that by addressing education gaps in our public school system, we successfully also address poverty, employment, healthcare, and more," Kresha added. 

However, there are some who question how changing the constitution would actually help address inequities.

Last year, when the amendment was first proposed, Education Minnesota (the state's largest teachers union), said it opposed the amendment, claiming it would remove the public school funding requirement from the state constitution. 

The amendment does remove a section of the Minnesota constitution that says "the legislature shall make such provisions by taxation or otherwise as will secure a thorough and efficient system of public schools throughout the state."

Education Minnesota President Denise Spect said she doesn't understand the plan and no one has been able to explain to her how the Page Amendment would make a difference, the Star Tribune reported earlier this month.

"Our families do not have stable housing, stable food,” Greta Callahan, president of the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers, told MPR News on Feb. 3. “To pretend like a school can fix this is unbelievable. And we need to be talking about the real problems: wage gaps, the way human beings are being treated, health gaps. We cannot do better for our kids until we're doing better as a society."

House Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, told the Star Tribune she'd rather work to close the education gap via the legislative process rather than a "litigation-based strategy."

Gov. Tim Walz hasn't said publicly if he supports the amendment (although it doesn't need his approval to get on the ballot), but earlier this year he did release an education plan aimed at eliminating disparities

The Page Amendment bill has no committee hearings scheduled and has no companion in the Senate. 

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