Capitol Watch: Page Amendment cancels your voice, your choice
Minnesotans remember Alan Page as one of the Purple People Eaters who helped lead the Vikings football team to four Super Bowls back in the 1970s. After his football career, Page used his popularity to run for the Minnesota Supreme Court and served for over twenty years. So what is his name doing on an amendment to the Minnesota Constitution?
The so-called Page Amendment seeks to address our state’s persistent achievement gap between white students and students of color. Proponents claim adding a “fundamental right to a quality education” in the words of the constitution will somehow force the legislature to finally pass the magic legislation necessary to close the achievement gap.
Justice Page has made education reform his passion in retirement and was recruited to this effort by Neel Kashkari, President of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. Together they are building a bi-partisan coalition supporting the amendment, and while it may not be going anywhere this year, they appear to be in it for the long haul.
As with many liberal ideas, the Page Amendment sounds good on its face. Who could be against a quality education? But the devil is in the details, or in the case of the Page Amendment, the lack of details. It starts with the text of the proposed amendment:
“All children have a fundamental right to a quality public education that fully prepares them with the skills necessary for participation in the economy, our democracy, and society, as measured against uniform achievement standards set forth by the state. It is a paramount duty of the state to ensure quality public schools that fulfill this fundamental right.”
What it says:
- Fundamental right – instead of limiting the power of the government over the individual, the amendment creates a “positive” right to a quality education. That’s like purporting to give all children a constitutional right “to be a successful high school athlete” or “to have a happy, healthy life.”
- Paramount duty – This language makes education the highest priority of government, ahead of public safety, healthcare, even higher education.
- Measured against uniform achievement standards – Standards are great, but who sets them? Minnesota has a poor track record of abandoning achievement standards, watering down accountability programs under pressure from the education establishment and teachers’ union.
- Public – the amendment specifically uses the word “public” in front of education, leaving behind almost 100,000 students who are in private schools or home schools.
What it doesn’t say:
- The vague language of the amendment doesn’t say anything about how to provide a “quality” public education. In fact, many of the terms in the proposed amendment lack specific meaning in state law and will be open to broad interpretation by lawyers and the courts.
That’s the biggest problem: lawyers and judges will be deciding education policy instead of legislators and school boards. Passage of the amendment will take away the voice of parents in their children’s education. Instead of talking to a local school board member or legislator, parents will have to hire a lawyer or join a lawsuit to be heard.
It defies logic why any legislator would voluntarily give away their power and responsibility over K-12 education policy and funding to another branch of government. School funding is one of the largest expenditures in the state budget and education is perennially a top issue for voters in November.
Where do they stand on the Page Amendment?
Education Minnesota is against the amendment, favoring the current constitutional language guaranteeing a “uniform” public education that is focused on funding schools rather than achievement. In other words, they are following the money.
Some House Republicans, led by Rep. Ron Kresha (R-Little Falls), are supporting the amendment based on the simple proposition that if the teachers’ union is against it, it must be a good idea.
Senate Republicans, led by Education Chair Roger Chamberlain (R-Lino Lakes) and Tax Committee Chair Carla Nelson (R-Rochester) oppose the amendment, making it unlikely to pass during the 2021 session. In fact, there isn’t even a Senate companion to the House legislation.
Some business leaders, including the Minnesota Business Partnership and former U.S. Senate candidate Mike McFadden, are supporting the amendment for reasons that can best be described as “we’ve tried everything else, why not try this?”
Gov. Walz hasn’t said much about the amendment, although he doesn’t have much say anyway because amendments to the constitution do not require the governor’s signature in order to appear on the ballot. Walz will likely stick with his friends in the teachers’ union, like he does on all education policy decisions.
Center of the American Experiment is strongly against the amendment and is launching a public awareness and advocacy campaign to protect the voice of parents and taxpayers in education policy reform at the state and local level.
Those interested can visit www.OurVoiceOurChoiceMN.com to find out more about the amendment and send a letter to the legislature opposing the Page Amendment.
Judging by the support lined up in favor of the amendment, this will not be a “one and done” issue.
This piece originally appeared in our Capitol Watch newsletter. Click here to receive the weekly Capitol Watch newsletter.