Advocates call for constitutional amendment to help close state’s achievement gaps

Kids wearing face masks exit a school bus.
Children exit a bus as prekindergarten through second grade students returned for in-person learning on Jan. 19 in Brooklyn Park, Minn.
Christine T. Nguyen | MPR News

Updated: 3:46 p.m.

Minnesota has some of the worst education achievement gaps in the nation, and a proposal to help address those inequities by changing the state constitution has sparked intense debate about how best to improve schools.

Neel Kashkari, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, has joined with retired Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Alan Page to push the so-called “Page Amendment” to the state constitution.

The proposal would guarantee all children the right to a quality public education that prepares them to prosper in the state’s economy and society. The amendment would make ensuring that fundamental right the state's top duty. Proponents say it’s intended to put the state’s focus on better outcomes for kids.

In 2019, the Minneapolis Federal Reserve released a study showing that Minnesota's racial, ethnic and economic disparities in test scores, graduation rates and college readiness are among the worst in the country.

On Thursday, host Kerri Miller spoke with Kashkari and Sean Reardon, a professor at Stanford’s Graduate School of Education, to discuss the proposed amendment and what other states are trying to close the achievement gap.

Guests:

  • Neel Kashkari is the president and CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.

  • Sean Reardon is a professor at Stanford’s Graduate School of Education where he studies social and educational inequality. 

To listen to the program, you can use the audio player above. Or read below for highlights of their conversation.

Kashkari said past attempts to overhaul the state's education system have met political resistance.

"We can't keep repeating the same behavior,” he said. “We need to commit and put children first, and make education — public education — the highest priority of our state. That's transformational."

Some teachers' unions have voiced opposition to the proposal. They fear it would remove the state's current obligation in the constitution to fund a “uniform system of public schools” and could open the door to vouchers for private schools.

Greta Callahan, president of the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers, said the amendment doesn't address the fundamental causes of the problem such as poverty and underfunding of public schools.

"Our families do not have stable housing, stable food,” Callahan said. “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."

But Kashkari said the amendment specifically mentions public education, so it would not lead to private school vouchers.

He said it's not necessary to solve all of society's ills before tackling education. Kashkari pointed out that states such as Florida have managed to improve the test scores of students in all racial and economic groups.

"Nobody's figured out yet how to solve poverty. And there are schools and there are states in America who have achieved much better outcomes for their low-income kids and their children of color who are also living in poverty,” he said.

The proposal has generated support from some state lawmakers, community activists and business leaders. Proponents want the Legislature to put the constitutional amendment on the ballot in the 2022 election. 

Gov. Tim Walz hasn’t come out in support of the amendment. He recently unveiled a broad plan that aims to ensure every child receives a high-quality education regardless of race or where they live.

Subscribe to the MPR News with Kerri Miller podcast on: Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify or RSS

Your support matters.

You make MPR News possible. Individual donations are behind the clarity in coverage from our reporters across the state, stories that connect us, and conversations that provide perspectives. Help ensure MPR remains a resource that brings Minnesotans together.