Minnesota Teachers’ Union Condemns Amendment to Make Quality Public Education a Civil Right

Amy Grady, who is running as an independent for a seat in the West Virginia state Senate, teaches in her classroom at Leon Elementary October 18, 2018 in Leon, West Virginia. - Teachers like Amy Grady successfully went on strike this year across West Virginia demanding better health care and …
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The largest Minnesota teachers’ union is condemning a proposed amendment to the state Constitution that would make a quality public school education for all students a civil right.

Alan Page, a former Minnesota Supreme Court justice, and Neel Kashkari, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, proposed the amendment, which consists of three sentences and aims to shrink the achievement gap between low-income children and those with families of higher income.

The key to the amendment is that it would make a quality public school education a civil right and provide parents with legal recourse to challenge education leaders to make them accountable.

Education Minnesota, which represents 80,000 union members, said such an amendment would undermine the funding of public schools and ultimately lead to school choice policies such as taxpayer-funded vouchers for private and religious schools.

“The public schools paid for by the taxpayers should be available to every Minnesota family no matter where they are from, how they pray, whether their children have special needs, or who they love,” Denise Specht, Education Minnesota president and a vice president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), said, according to the Star Tribune.

However, Page and Kashkari said the union’s objections to their amendment are “laughable” reported the Tribune, because the proposal seeks to provide high quality public school education for all children.

“The new language would make it the paramount duty of the state to ensure quality public schools,” Kashkari said. “The state would have no higher duty than supporting public education with this amendment.”

A report about the amendment on the website of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis asserts Minnesota’s public education system is in “crisis”:

Minnesota has some of the largest achievement gaps in the nation, and they are getting worse. Children from low-income families and families of color have shockingly lower educational opportunities and outcomes in Minnesota. If we do not close these gaps, some of these children might never fully participate in our economy. It is unfair, and it will limit Minnesota’s economic competitiveness.

Stronger constitutional guarantees help improve policy by putting power in the hands of families to ensure that their children receive a quality education. Under the proposed amendment, the state—through the legislature, executive branch, and judiciary—would be required to ensure that all students are afforded a quality education and that the state is held accountable to established standards.

The report points out as well that, currently, “there is no mandate for quality education for all children and no accountability as measured by any objective standard.”

According to the Tribune’s report, Kashkari observed the amendment could allow more taxpayer funds to be sent to schools that need it.

“What some kids in north Minneapolis need is going to be different than what kids in Bemidji or Winona need,” he said. “For example, Minnesota has open enrollment, but I’ve talked to many families who say they don’t have a way of getting their kids to the schools. So maybe those families need transportation as their solution.”

“This is 100 percent about supporting public education,” Kashkari said in response to criticism from the teachers’ union. “I don’t know how to make that clearer than having it three times in the three sentences.”

He added the amendment has nothing to do with support for private or religious schools. If the state does not provide quality public education, the amendment allows parents legal recourse to challenge state leaders.

The teachers’ union, however, said it objects to the legal mandate to quality public school education because only wealthy parents would be able to challenge the state.

“This amendment favors parents who can afford to hire attorneys to advocate for their own children, probably at the expense of families with fewer resources,” Specht said. “That is the opposite of education equity. Minnesota schools are failing too many students of color and students in poverty. We shouldn’t expect their families to wait on the courts, which will take years.”

Kashkari, however, responded to the union leader’s claim by pointing out that, “if one family brings a case, that can drive change that can help everybody.”

“That’s how civil right changes have been made in our country,” he asserted.

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