I have to admit I was stunned to see Katherine Kersten’s full-throttled opposition to the proposed constitutional amendment on education that’s moving through the State Capitol (“Constitutional amendment will hurt, not help,” Feb. 12). I seek to clear up some confusion about the amendment.
For far too long, Minnesota’s education achievement gaps and disparities have plagued our state — that’s why I, along with other business and community leaders, started a new bipartisan grassroots coalition known as Our Children MN. Our failure on education is not confined to one group of people. Instead, Republicans, Democrats and independents alike share the blame. And if we are going to solve this problem, we need a bipartisan effort that transcends politics.
We’re proud to partner with Federal Reserve President Neel Kashkari and former Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Alan Page, who have been leading efforts to fix our education crisis by amending the Minnesota Constitution to give every child the right to a quality education. The Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis has called Minnesota’s Achievement Gap a statewide crisis.
We have had more than enough of academic, ivory-tower debates about how to solve this problem. Now is the time for action.
As a conservative, I am attracted to the amendment because it addresses both individual rights and accountability. The amendment isn’t just “powerful legal buzzwords” and wouldn’t “open a Pandora’s box of lawsuits,” as Kersten stated in her opinion. Rather, the amendment is a powerful catalyst for desperately needed change across the entire state.
• Individual rights: Kersten points to a new “fundamental, positive right” being created by the amendment. This is wrong. Our Constitution currently has an education clause that has been interpreted as a fundamental right to an adequate education. That is the problem. “Adequate” is too low of a standard and doesn’t fit Minnesota values. In Minnesota, we don’t strive to be adequate in anything. The amendment fixes this by elevating the standard from “adequate” to “quality.” A bedrock of conservative thought is the belief in the right of the individual over the collective. As with all individual rights, this would only go to the courts if the Legislature didn’t do its job and if the right were violated.
• Accountability: The amendment also requires outcomes to be measured, which is fiscal discipline. Despite spending more than $13 billion a year on public schools, we continue to have some of the worst achievement gaps in the country. Approximately 40% of the state’s budget is dedicated to education funding, and those gaps continue to get worse, not better. If education spending is going to be a major part of our budget, don’t we want to measure it and know that it is producing results?
Investing more money in a system that is broken is bad policy. In Minneapolis, we’re spending more than $17,000 per student on education. And what do we have to show for it? Some of the worst education outcomes in the country.
The proposed amendment creates the catalyst for change. It is not prescriptive; it only sets the standard. The Legislature will be forced to act to create education solutions that actually work for our children. Let me reiterate — the Legislature, not the courts, will be called upon to enact systemic education reforms following passage of the amendment.
The Fed report points to states like Louisiana and Florida as case studies to show that constitutional amendments can be catalysts for change, as evidenced by widespread reforms to their educational systems that followed passage of amendments. Those legislatively enacted reforms helped create improved educational outcomes for their children. According to the Fed, Florida’s constitutional education clause is now the strongest in the country — it recognizes education as a fundamental value, requires the state to provide high-quality education and makes the provision of education a paramount duty of the state.
We can do the same here in Minnesota.
As conservatives, we should be dismayed and embarrassed for standing on the sidelines this long. It is unacceptable that Minnesota has made no meaningful progress to close the achievement gap over the last 30 years. The amendment will require accountability and successful outcomes expected from the state public education system. This is what we as conservatives should want — state accountability, positive outcomes and effective and efficient government.
If you have questions about the proposed constitutional amendment, reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d love to have a conversation, conservative to conservative.
Mike McFadden is a businessman and former Republican candidate for U.S. Senate. He’s one of the leaders of Our Children MN, a nonprofit organization.