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Proposed Constitutional Change Aims to Reduce Education Disparities in MN

Minnesota has long struggled with gaps in test scores and graduation rates for various student groups. (Tamarcus Brown/Librestock)
Minnesota has long struggled with gaps in test scores and graduation rates for various student groups. (Tamarcus Brown/Librestock)
January 13, 2020

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- A proposed constitutional amendment in Minnesota would update language concerning education for students of all backgrounds. But an advocacy group says other racial gaps need to be addressed as well.

Last week, former state Supreme Court Justice Alan Page and Minneapolis Federal Reserve President Neel Kashkari proposed modifying the state constitution to say all children have a fundamental right to a quality public education. They hope it will help eliminate long-standing achievement gaps.

Bharti Wahi, director of the Children's Defense Fund of Minnesota, called it a bold step.

"These disparities are not recent or new, but actually a historic and longstanding pattern," Wahi said. "And I appreciate that they are trying to get people to think beyond equity of access to education to equity of outcome."

However, Wahi said policymakers in Minnesota need to get serious about reducing racial gaps in other areas, such as housing and wealth. She said children of color still might struggle if there's instability elsewhere.

The Legislature and voters still need to approve the proposal. The Minneapolis Fed, which has said education issues can have a lasting economic impact, recently issued a report that said Minnesota is among the worst states when it comes to achievement gaps.

Wahi said a broader conversation about institutional racism, and how to change it, could make the proposed amendment change a worthwhile effort.

"I hope that this conversation about an amendment prompts not just a conversation about how we are thinking about our education system, but that we are thinking more broadly about the accumulation of these disparities and the totality of their impact on academic achievement as well," she said.

The proposed amendment faces some opposition, mainly from the state teacher's union, which says it could have unintended consequences for how public schools are funded.

Disclosure: Children's Defense Fund- Minnesota Chapter contributes to our fund for reporting on Budget Policy & Priorities, Children's Issues. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Mike Moen, Public News Service - MN