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by Steve Timmer
Jun 8, 2021, 3:00 PM

Misleading at best

And something else at worst

One claim that the Page People make on its website, advocating for the “Page Amendment,” is that the proposed constitutional amendment is “nearly identical” to one adopted in a referendum by the voters of Florida. This is a craven, mendacious, and laughable claim. Here’s the claim on the Page People website:

Florida updated their [sic] constitution in 1998 to recognize education as a fundamental value of the state, making it the strongest education clause in the nation. Nearly identical to the proposed Page Amendment, the Florida amendment requires the state to provide high quality education, and makes the provision of education a paramount duty of the state.

For backgrounders on the Page Amendment, which might as well be called the Kashkari Amendment or the Minneapolis Federal Reserve Bank Amendment, or perhaps the Minneapolis Foundation Amendment, please read articles by Rob Levine and by me.

The language that the Page People want to include in the Minnesota Constitution, in lieu of the current language of Article XIII, Section 1 (which is reproduced below) is 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 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.

Here is the Florida Constitution language that the Page People say that its amendment is almost exactly like:

Public Education

(a) The education of children is a fundamental value of the people of the State of Florida. It is, therefore, a paramount duty of the state to make adequate provision for the education of all children residing within its borders. Adequate provision shall be made by law for a uniform, efficient, safe, secure, and high quality system of free public schools that allows students to obtain a high quality education and for the establishment, maintenance, and operation of institutions of higher learning and other public education programs that the needs of the people may require. To assure that children attending public schools obtain a high quality education, the legislature shall make adequate provision to ensure that, by the beginning of the 2010 school year, there are a sufficient number of classrooms so that:

    (1) The maximum number of students who are assigned to each teacher who is teaching in public school classrooms for prekindergarten through grade 3 does not exceed 18 students;

    (2) The maximum number of students who are assigned to each teacher who is teaching in public school classrooms for grades 4 through 8 does not exceed 22 students; and

   (3) The maximum number of students who are assigned to each teacher who is teaching in public school classrooms for grades 9 through 12 does not exceed 25 students.

The class size requirements of this subsection do not apply to extracurricular classes. Payment of the costs associated with reducing class size to meet these requirements is the responsibility of the state and not of local schools districts. Beginning with the 2003-2004 fiscal year, the legislature shall provide sufficient funds to reduce the average number of students in each classroom by at least two students per year until the maximum number of students per classroom does not exceed the requirements of this subsection.

(b) Every four-year old child in Florida shall be provided by the State a high quality pre-kindergarten learning opportunity in the form of an early childhood development and education program which shall be voluntary, high quality, free, and delivered according to professionally accepted standards. An early childhood development and education program means an organized program designed to address and enhance each child’s ability to make age appropriate progress in an appropriate range of settings in the development of language and cognitive capabilities and emotional, social, regulatory and moral capacities through education in basic skills and such other skills as the Legislature may determine to be appropriate.

(c) The early childhood education and development programs provided by reason of subparagraph (b) shall be implemented no later than the beginning of the 2005 school year through funds generated in addition to those used for existing education, health, and development programs. Existing education, health, and development programs are those funded by the State as of January 1, 2002 that provided for child or adult education, health care, or development.

The principal amendment language was adopted in 1998; the universal pre-K language was added in 2002. The pre-K language probably did the heavy lifting the in improvement of Florida student performance.

Even the casual observer will notice some differences between Florida and the Page People. One of the differences that is not so apparent, though, is that the Florida language focuses on the standards of schools for the benefit and betterment of all students, while the Page People’s language focuses on individual student’s rights. It is rather remarkable that red state Florida’s language is more communitarian than the language proposed by the Page People, but there it is.

Since most children will continue to be educated in public schools of the non-charter variety, doesn’t it make sense to focus on improving those schools, rather than killing them with a thousand cuts?

The Florida Constitution language refers to specific things, like class sizes and preschool education. The Page People leave things up to the judicial imagination.

I am glad the Page People invited the comparison, frankly. Here’s the language of Article XIII, Section 1 of the Minnesota Constitution as it exists today:

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]

I think there is more consonance between the Florida language in Section (a) and the current Education Clause in Minnesota, especially regarding the requirement of uniformity, which is gutted by the Page Amendment. As I noted in What Lies Beneath, the Page People eschew uniformity on their website.

Now, I will admit that the Page People’s language and the Florida constitutional language share the adjectives quality and paramount. But the existing language of the Education Clause in the Minnesota Constitution and the Florida language share words, too: uniform, efficient, adequate provision.

As Rob Levine recounts, even the great Shiva of public education, Mike Ciresi, says that current Minnesota law requires public school education of high quality. Changing the duty in the current constitutional language to a paramount duty is just silly frippery. I invite the Page People to explain how there is a practical difference. Maybe they could call it a Very Serious Duty, or a Dammit, We Really Mean It Duty.

The Page People’s amendment would add nothing to the duty of the State to educate children, and it only detracts from the requirement of integrating schools, as I describe in What Lies Beneath. Court decisions under the existing Education Clause, discussed in that story, set many parameters for the duty of the state to educate children, including requirement of equal protection against segregated schools.

I submit that if the Page People were serious about improving public schools, they would supports the efforts of the Cruz-Guzman plaintiffs (see What Lies Beneath) and others to enforce the already existing quality and equal protection requirements in Minnesota law, rather that trying to rejigger the state’s Education Clause.

You’d almost think there was an ulterior motive. Well, there is.

This is the underlying motive of the Page People: the maintenance of segregated charter schools and privatization of public education. I wish the Page People would just admit this so that the discussion could be conducted honestly.

But in this debate, quality and paramount are the stalking horses for private education and segregation.

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