My views on the proposed constitutional amendment for “quality” education in Minnesota have not changed since it was introduced earlier this year because it still avoids addressing the systemic inequities that permeate every social-educational system impacting our children. (“Education amendment is even more relevant,” Opinion Exchange, July 14). We need a multi-institutional commitment to our educational systems, backed up with real money and resources.
As written, the proposal from Neel Kashkari, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, and Alan Page, a retired Minnesota Supreme Court justice, would (1) fundamentally remove the basic requirement that the state fund a public school system through taxation, and (2) encourage protracted litigation on grounds that children are not receiving a quality public education according to achievement standards. Both are inherently problematic and would impede, not improve, the state’s mission of educating its children.
For example, since only about 55% of the state’s children are meeting state standards, families whose schools do not meet state standards or whose children do not meet state standards could sue either the state or their school district for failure to meet this obligation (regardless of whether the school or district has adequate funds to operate and educate). In doing so, they could request the following remedies: (1) vouchers to send their child to a charter/private school, (2) admittance to a school outside of their designated school boundaries or (3) a monetary award to compensate them for psychological/educational damages.
Vouchers will privatize education and primarily benefit higher-income families who can afford to use that voucher to offset tuition expense. Low-income families might receive a voucher, but they still are unlikely to be able to afford the full cost of private school tuition.
Admittance to a school outside of designated boundaries might enable children of color to gain access to whiter (and better-quality) schools, but that very same argument could be used by white families who want to remove their children from diverse schools and also gain access to whiter schools. All they need is to establish their school or their child is not meeting state standards. A recent research study found that disadvantaged students in Minneapolis did not accrue academic gains when bused to suburban school districts. Obviously, more research is needed to fully understand the social, financial and educational implications of these potential remedies and consequences.
Aside from the education factor, there is the money factor. Families who sue the state or the district most likely would have to endure a complex legal process to prove actual damages — a costly, time-consuming and woefully inadequate remedy for life-impacting poor educational outcomes. Successful cases, or a class action by the 45% of students failing to meet state standards, could bankrupt the school district or the state. To cover the imminent liability risk, higher insurance premiums and enormous reserves would be required, thus taking away resources for teachers, building improvements or school supplies.
Finally, that 45% might creep higher as students slide backward during the pandemic — Minnesota is not nearly prepared to support K-12 online learning.
We first need a real conversation about education equity, racial equity and financial equity — then we can talk about quality.
Sophie Louis, of Columbia Heights, is an educator.