As a campaign manager — formerly with Women Winning and the Biden campaign for President — Nevada Littlewolf was asked to join the Page Amendment team as executive director with Our Children MN. She had spent 10 years doing child protection work in Virginia, Minnesota, and was aware of how educational disparities further impacted outcomes on health, incarceration, and economy.
“When you look far upstream to see the cause of issues in families and problems related to juvenile detention,” she says, “so much starts with education and income disparities.”
She could see that the disproportionate disciplining actions for Black and Indigenous students needed upstream systems change — “setting better policy at the top” — in order to have a bigger impact in Minnesota. The state’s educational system was set up in 1857 and has not been legally redefined since. We know so much more now about children’s needs, Littlewolf says.
“It is setting a paramount duty of the state to prioritize education,” she says. “Education is at the intersection of everything. It is the strongest indicator of economic security — getting paid a living wage for housing, breaking the cycle of poverty.”
This level of commitment to equity in quality education, rather than adequacy, requires an amendment to the state constitution to make it a permanent duty.
Florida is an example of a state that has shown dramatic educational improvement since adjusting its priorities. The reading rate, for example, had been near Minnesota in the lower half of the nation; now it ranks sixth, while Minnesota has not improved.
The campaign largely began after Neel Kashkari, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, arrived to Minnesota from California. This was a year after he lost his bid as the Republican challenger to incumbent Gov. Jerry Brown in 2014. He was surprised to learn how little progress Minnesota had made in closing the achievement gap.
With a divided legislature, Kashkari said at a Global Minnesota forum about education, “politics gets in the way. Minor changes were being made around the margins without fundamentally changing the system.”
He reached out to former Minnesota Supreme Court justice Alan Page, co-founder in 1988 with his wife Diane of the Page Education Foundation, which awards grants to students of color in exchange for community service. Kashkari asked, “Can we use the law to break these barriers?”
Page found that the Minnesota constitution’s education provision had not changed since 1857, when slavery was legal in much of the U.S. The provision merely says children have a right to access adequate and uniform education. Other states have updated their constitutions to create a much stronger commitment to education.
The Page Amendment proposes to add these words to the state constitution:
State Representative Hodan Hassan officially introduced the Page Amendment to the House of Representatives on February 15, with bipartisan support in the House. Twelve representatives have signed on as co-authors so far: Representatives Hodan Hassan (62A), Ron Kresha (9B), Carlos Mariani (65B), Sondra Erickson (15A), Samantha Vang (40B), Jon Koznick (58A), Jay Xiong (67B), Tama Theis (14A), John Thompson (67A), Barb Haley (21A), Tou Xiong (53A), Joe Schomacker (22A)
The bill’s introduction was one of the first major steps in its journey through the state legislature.
Why a constitutional amendment?
The Minnesota State Constitution was established in 1857, along with an education clause, which stated that it was the state government’s duty to establish an “adequate” and “uniform” system for public schools. New constitutional language would not only establish education as a paramount duty of the state, but also bring the conversations around education and equity into the year 2021 and beyond.
By establishing a civil right in the state constitution, citizens are put in a stronger position to ensure that the government is protecting their rights.
Isn’t this just a new way to get a voucher system for education in the state?
The Page Amendment does not induce a voucher system. Our sole intention is making public education better for all children.
The Page Amendment is clearly written as “public education” and we have a diverse intersection of Minnesota supporters who support it. The language emphasizes the word “public” three times to clarify that the amendment supports traditional public schools and charter schools, which are also public schools.
Currently the education provision of the state constitution allows the legislature to pass a bill to enact an educational voucher system today if they wanted to. The proposed amendment does not change the state’s ability to do that, but that also does not mean a voucher system will be enacted.
How does the amendment get passed?
Amendments need the support of legislators — passing in both the House and the Senate — and then be approved by the citizens of Minnesota.
What happens if the amendment passes?
After approval by a majority of voters, there are three changes that take immediate effect:
1. Education will become a paramount duty of the state: When the Legislature and Governor meet for their first legislative session after the election, they will be crafting policies and a budget with a new mandate from voters to put quality education as a paramount duty of the state.
2. The amendment changes the mandate from “the uniformity or efficiency of the system” to “the quality of public education offered to people.”
3. Families will have an avenue to address inequities: The Amendment will ensure the judicial branch is a place for citizens to seek resolution if their rights are compromised.
What is available at the legislative level that would have an impact, including trauma-informed solutions? COMING SOON