Minneapolis Fed Pres. Neel Kashkari - Business Insider photo
by Steve Timmer
May 9, 2021, 6:00 PM

What Lies Beneath

Minneapolis Federal Reserve President Neel Kashkari and former Minnesota Supreme Court Associate Justice Alan Page penned an op-ed in the Star Tribune that ran in the paper edition on May 4, 2021. They made a case for the “Page Amendment” to amend, well gut, really, what’s known as the Education Clause of the Minnesota Constitution, Article XIII, Section 1. It provides:

UNIFORM SYSTEM OF PUBLIC SCHOOLS. The stability of a republican form of government depending mainly upon the intelligence of the people, it is the duty of the legislature to establish a general and uniform system of public schools. The legislature shall make such provisions by taxation or otherwise as will secure a thorough and efficient system of public schools throughout the state. [emphasis added]

They complain that the provision is old and needs to be replaced. Of course, the Education Clause is about the same age as most of the rest of the Minnesota Constitution, including the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses. But they want to replace it with this:

EQUAL RIGHT TO QUALITY PUBLIC EDUCATION. 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 [emphasis added] 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.

On the website that is a vehicle for the Page Amendment campaign, Our Children MN, the campaign says this about the amendment:

Centering education on families and quality versus adequacy and uniformity [emphasis added].

So, Page People, is “uniformity” good or bad? It’s good when we say it is and bad when we don’t, I suppose the Page People might respond.

Before we get into that and other things, though, I would like you to read two recent informative pieces:

The Fed’s education constitutional amendment would turn schools over to economists and lawyers, an opinion piece by Will Stancil, a research fellow at the University of Minnesota Law School Institute on Metropolitan Opportunity.

Proposed Page Amendment is the Cruz-Guzman killer, a thorough and deeply researched web story by Rob Levine, who has followed education politics for as long as I’ve known him, about fifteen years; he’s probably been at it longer than that.

Will’s a civil rights lawyer and Rob is a great data bird dog. I’ve said of Rob, not entirely facetiously, that he reads IRS nonprofit 990s for fun.

Who are the Page People, really?

Well, we all know who Alan Page is: undersized Hall of Fame NFL defensive lineman, former Associate Justice on Minnesota’s Supreme Court, children’s book author, encourager and supporter of the higher education aspirations of young people of color, maple syrup maker, and tuba player, among other things. There is a lot to admire about Alan Page, and I do.

It isn’t surprising that the Page People decided to name the initiative the “Page Amendment.” It would have been stupid marketing to call it the Kashkari Amendment, the Minneapolis Fed Amendment, the Mike Ciresi Amendment, or even the Minneapolis Foundation Amendment, although each of these names would have been just as accurate, maybe more so, as you would know, if you read Rob’s article as I suggested.

You would also know from reading Rob’s article that Kashkari, Ciresi, the Minneapolis Fed, and the Minneapolis Foundation are not supporters of public education.

Neel Kashkari is not a long time Minnesotan. Before he moved to Minnesota in 2016 to take the job at the Minneapolis Fed he was, in order, a Goldman Sachs executive, a Treasury official in the George Bush II administration, overseeing “troubled assets,” in other words making sure that the banks got the recovery money, and a gadfly Republican candidate for governor in California (the “asset manager from Laguna Beach”) with a love affair for charter schools.

Just the sort of guy you want making decisions about the language of the Minnesota Constitution concerning education. But he’s brought the muscle of the Minneapolis Fed into this, bringing a banker’s steady hand into the education of children.

Mike Ciresi and his foundation, and the Minneapolis Foundation, through their functionary grantee foundations and institutions, have pumped, and continue to pump, millions into highly segregated charter schools. Charter school that, frankly, don’t do all that well; I refer you again to Rob Levine’s article. You must ask yourself why they’d continue to pour money down these, excuse me, educational ratholes? It doesn’t seem to be about quality.

You should ask an MBA

The answer is found, I think, in one of the greatest discoveries of the MBA class in my lifetime: the revenue stream. There are a lot of businesses that continue to struggle to sell one car, or one sack of groceries, at a time. This is the hard way. What if you could figure out a way to make sure that the revenue continues, month after month, year after year? Kind of a golden stream. Well, never mind.

The businesses that are the best at doing this are service businesses: banks, insurance companies, lawn care services (six annual treatments for one low price!), etc. But one of the best candidates for service-business-revenue-stream treatment is a school.

As long as there are children, there will be customers, and as long as there are taxes there will be revenue. If you don’t see the business opportunity here, the harmonic convergence of children and taxes, you are not paying attention.

Well, you say: charter schools are nonprofit. Okay, but their landlords, the food service, the custodial service, accounting service, etc. and etc., are not. There are lots of ways to peel an onion.

I would draw an analogy to nonprofit hospitals: virtually everything is outsourced to a for-profit subsidiary: the parking ramp, the meal service, at least part of human resources, laundry of uniforms, you name it. This is where capital gets fat, and it does, believe me.

Public schools and charter schools get the same amount under the state’s per pupil formula. Yet, charter schools pay their teachers less, as much as a third less. Where does this extra money go?

If you said to the capitalists, go get yourself a cookie. Salaries are a huge item in a school, because the employees have degrees, often advanced degrees. If you can squeeze this cost, by hiring a smaller staff and paying it less, it is profit. You’ll have to figure out a way to siphon it off, but if you’re ambitious enough, you can probably do that.

Moreover, scratching a profit out of the flinty soil of charter schools is just the short-term strategy. The long-term strategy, which Neel Kashkari, the Federal Reserve Bank, and the foundations are entirely on board with, is to turn public education over to private business. Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans are the model here. They just want to make sure that public education dies a death of a thousand charter school cuts, and if possible, school voucher cuts, too.

And in the meantime, the entrepreneur schools spring up and disappear like kiosks in a mall, sometimes failing spectacularly and or fraudulently, and sometimes by “consolidation,” as in the recent case of Hiawatha Academies. Hiawatha is, incidentally, beset (I am sure that is how the school feels about it) by a union organizing drive by the teachers.

Confirmation of the education privatization agenda

Since writing the prior section, an article in the Washington Post’s Answer Sheet came to my attention. Here’s part of the lead paragraph:

When champions of market-based reform in the United States look at public education, they see two separate activities — government funding education and government running schools. The first is okay with them; the second is not. Reformers want to replace their bête noire — what they call the “monopoly of government-run schools” — with freedom of choice in a competitive market dominated by privately run schools that get government subsidies.

The article is mostly the recounting of an interview with a former education lobbyist – a “deformer” as Rob Levine would call them – named Charles Siler. Here’s part of what he had to say:

In March, Siler had a conversation with education historian and activist Diane Ravitch as well as with podcaster Jennifer Berkshire, in which he provided insight into the playbook used by “school choice” proponents, the belief system that drives them and their long-term objective. He makes it very clear: Their ultimate goal is to dismantle K-12 public schools. [emphasis added]

The Page Amendment is a Rhetorical Sleight of Hand

If you believe that the Page Amendment changes and improves the racial and equal protection calculus for students in Minnesota, you would be sorely mistaken. Understandably mistaken because of the Page People rhetoric, but mistaken, nevertheless.

Education is not a fundamental right under federal equal protection law. But it is under the Minnesota Equal Protection Clause. Why is that?

It’s because of a 1993 Minnesota Supreme Court case captioned Skeen v. State of Minnesota. In Skeen, the court held that because of the language of the Education Clause, which created an affirmative duty of the state to create a “general and uniform public schools” and secure a “through and efficient system of public schools throughout the state.” If you read the linked opinion, you will see that several states protect education as a fundamental right with language like our Education Clause.

Skeen is a fundamental case interpreting the fundamental Education Clause. Even charter school champion Mike Ciresi seems to recognize that, saying, as quoted in a MinnPost article and recounted by Rob Levine in his linked article, “Mike Ciresi told MinnPost [reporter Beth Hawkins] in 2014 that Minnesota children are entitled to a quality education under existing law.”

The Minnesota Supreme Court relied on Skeen in 2018 as precedent in another important education case, Cruz-Guzman v. State of Minnesota. The court introduced the case this way:

The complaint contains copious data demonstrating a “high degree of segregation based on race and socioeconomic status” in Minneapolis and Saint Paul public schools. The public schools in Minneapolis and Saint Paul that appellants’ children and other school-age children attend are “disproportionately comprised of students of color and students living in poverty, as compared with a number of neighboring and surrounding schools and districts.” These segregated and “hyper-segregated” schools have significantly worse academic outcomes in comparison with neighboring schools and suburban school districts in measures such as graduation rates; pass rates for state-mandated Basic Standards Tests; and proficiency rates in math, science, and reading. Appellants describe these racially and socioeconomically segregated schools as “separate and unequal” from “neighboring and surrounding whiter and more affluent suburban schools” and detail the extensive harms of racial and socioeconomic segregation.

When the case was filed in 2015 by parents of children in the Minneapolis and St. Paul schools, a group of charter schools, including Higher Ground Academy, intervened as defendants, obviously worried about the implication of the case for their chains of highly segregated charter schools. The defendants claimed that the plaintiffs’ sought relief that was not “justiciable,” and that the issues raised were “political questions.”

The defendants had some success in the lower courts, but the Supreme Court reversed, holding that claims raised by the plaintiffs under the Education Clause and the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses of the Minnesota Constitution were justiciable. The Supreme Court sent the case back to the district court for further proceedings, including a trial.

Whereupon the charter school defendants who had petitioned to get in the case when it was filed, tried to get back out, claiming they were exempt from integration mandates under state law. They moved for summary judgment on those grounds, but the motion was denied by the Hennepin County District Court in June of 2019. The Minneapolis Foundation contributed to the cost of making the summary judgment motion.

Six month later, a new Minnesota nonprofit, Our Children MN was formed to begin to tout an amendment to the Minnesota Constitution that it called the Page Amendment. This was not a coincidence. It was a calculated subterfuge of mandates to integrate Minnesota schools, and to protect the chains of segregated charter schools. To be successful, the charter schoolers had to get rid of the Education Clause (especially the “general and uniform” language) and the Skeen and Cruz-Guzman cases that relied on it.

It is quite interesting, and I think telling, that the charter schoolers had a complete change of heart from the time of their motion for summary judgment in Cruz-Guzman and the announcement of the Page Amendment.

In Cruz-Guzman, the charter schoolers maintained with all their hearts that education quality questions were not justiciable and shouldn’t be in the courts. After they lost their summary judgment motion, they became all for injecting courts into nebulous and undefined “education quality,” not just as an equal protection matter, but with courts as policymakers. My god, they turned on a dime.

Fidelity to principle is not their long suit, I guess.

The Page Amendment gives no guidance to courts about what permissible remedies for violation of the amendment might be. It is left entirely to the judicial imagination.

The charter schoolers are willing to throw education jurisprudence into a cocked hat to preserve their segregated charter schools and further their privatization agenda.

It really is that simple.

Conclusion

In recent days, there has been a tentative settlement of the Cruz-Guzman lawsuit; it is not favorable to the segregated charter schools. The settlement would have to be approved by the Minnesota Legislature, and the charter schoolers are working hard to see that it doesn’t happen.

The Cruz-Guzman settlement and the Page Amendment are fundamentally opposed to each other. The settlement is pro-integration, while the Page Amendment is pro-segregation and school privatization with tax money funding.

It is very disappointing – nay dismaying – that community leaders, and regrettably Justice Page must be included here, would throw reputation and treasure behind a constitutional amendment so mendaciously conceived and so poorly and evasively written.

UPDATE, May 11th: If you go to the About section of the Our Children MN page, you’ll see the name of people identified with the campaign. What you won’t see is any mention of Neel Kashkari or the Minneapolis Federal Reserve District.

UPDATE, May 20th: The privatization movement just keeps rolling along.

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