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Something to think about...by Superintendent Westerberg

You may have heard recently about a proposal by two prominent Minnesotans to amend the State Constitution in an effort to lower the achievement gap between minority and non-minority students. Neel Kashkari, president of the Federal Reserve Bank in Minneapolis and retired Minnesota Supreme Court justice and Viking Hall of Famer Allen Page have joined together to propose a change in the wording of the state constitution, which they believe will ultimately result in improving the academic outcomes of all students.

The performance gap between minority and non-minority students in Minnesota, based upon the state assessment (MCA – Minnesota Cognitive Assessment), has some of the greatest disparities in the country with no signs of improving. They’re proposing a change from the present wording of having a “uniform system of public schools”, which the legislature has interpreted as adequate education systems, to guaranteeing children an “equal right to quality education.”  The change also includes the word guaranteed. As Page noted, “It makes quality education a civil right of all students.”

What does this all mean? Those favoring the change see this as leverage with the state legislature and Governor to make the necessary changes in public education that will guarantee all students a quality education. Those opposed question what and who will determine the definition of a quality education and whether this change will open the door for litigation by parents against local schools for their child not receiving what they believe to be a quality education. Clearly, the achievement gap requires something different must be done. Though it remains unclear at this point what that something entails. I do know there are no simple solutions to this challenging problem and it remains to be seen whether something meaningful will result if a change is made.  Like most things, the devil is in the details. 

Modifying the State Constitution requires the state legislature to place this wording on the ballot for the voters to decide. Page and Kashkari are hoping this will be on the ballot for November’s election. This topic should be worth paying attention to as it makes its way through the Capitol.