Our Children Minnesota is not a charity
by Steve Timmer
Nov 15, 2021, 7:30 PM

You can tell the Page Amendment is a Trojan horse

Because it is so poorly thought out

Before I discuss that, however, listen to remarks made by Minneapolis Public Schools board member Nelson Inz, made at a board meeting on November 9th, discussing the Page Amendment. (With thanks to Rob Levine for preparing the clip.) A majority of the MPS board disapproved of the amendment, certainly as written.

That’s a bracing dose of reality, isn’t it?

Seriously, the only thing — literally, the only thing — that the Page People are concerned about is getting rid of the language in the current constitutional Education Clause (Article XIII, Section 1) requiring that the state maintain a “general and uniform system of public schools.”

The Page People are scared to death of this language, because the state’s jurisprudence on equal protection in education depends on it. It is also the foundation for Minnesota Supreme Court holdings that the state has an obligation to provide each child with a quality education. It is the language that the Supreme Court depends on for the proposition that segregated schools in the state are inherently unequal.

This is a special problem for many highly-segregated charter schools — white schools (the so-called “classics” schools), black schools, Latino schools, Hmong schools — I am sure there are more.

The Page Amendment arose in the first place as a response to the Cruz-Guzman v. Minnesota case going seriously sideways in the Minnesota Supreme Court. After the Supreme Court ruled in Cruz-Guzman that segregated schools were inherently unequal, charter school defendants in the case, who petitioned to get in it in the first place, tried to get back out, claiming that integration didn’t apply to them. They were unsuccessful, and:

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.

As board member Inz says, the Page Amendment does nothing for public schools at best, and it’s a disaster at worst. The Page People are depending on you not to figure that out. But you ought to listen to Nelson Inz; he has it figured out.

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I have already written one story on comparing the current Education Amendment and the Page Amendment in Misleading at best.

This is the language of the Education Clause of the Minnesota Constitution as it is currently written.

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]

Here is the language of the proposed Page Amendment; the final sentence was added to the foot of the proposed amendment language in the Senate introduction. It doesn’t appear in the House companion bill. It doesn’t appear on the Page People version of the amendment, either, at least on the front page of their website as of the time of this writing.

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. The duty of the state established in this section does not infringe on the right of a parent to choose for their child a private, religious, or home school as an alternative to public education.

– o O o –

In addition to deleting the general and uniform language, the Page Amendment also deletes the thorough and efficient system of public schools throughout the state requirement. Taken together, the removal of these two clauses would cripple the ability of school districts to sue, if necessary, for adequate funding.

That’s what happened in Skeen v. State of Minnesota; there were fifty-two school district plaintiffs and some individual plaintiffs, too. The Supreme Court framed the case this way.

The provision which generates the impetus for this lawsuit is the Education Clause of the Minnesota Constitution. This provision requires a “general and uniform system of public schools,” but, unlike many cases in other states, this case never involved a challenge to the adequacy of education in Minnesota. In fact, the parties conceded that all plaintiff districts met or exceeded the educational requirements of the state. Rather, the plaintiffs’ action is premised on claims of relative harm, i.e., harm caused by the availability of fewer resources in low-wealth districts than in their high-wealth counterparts. [emphasis added]

Since the plaintiffs stipulated that they already met or exceeded the educational requirements of the state, it was a hard case for them to win. It came down to complaining that, for example, Edina could raise more money in an excess operating levy than could Elk River (the actual example the court used).

The Supreme Court examined the disparities and concluded that they didn’t amount to a constitutional violation, on the record at the time. Which is not to say they couldn’t or wouldn’t at some other time. If, for example, the legislature funded schools so badly that excess levies were necessary for schools to meet their basic educational obligations.

But at least the school districts were in the ball game in Skeen. If the language on which Skeen rests was stripped from the Constitution, the plaintiff school districts wouldn’t have had standing to sue. There wouldn’t have even been a lawsuit.

Alan Page sat on the Supreme Court at the time and dissented in Skeen; he thought, to paraphrase him a little, that funding per pupil should be equal to the nickel across the state, irrespective of excess levies. But you would have thought that he understood from the majority’s opinion that Skeen did stand for an important equal protection principle and the duty of the state to insure a thorough and efficient system of public schools throughout the state.

Personally, I think you could only fail to see that if you were blinded and hell-bent on advancing another agenda.

– o O o –

The Page People will proudly tell you they are trying create an individual right to a quality education. As such, a school district probably won’t have standing to seek equal protection funding on behalf of its students. Students and their parents would have standing to sue, and they would undoubtedly mostly sue their public school districts.

– o O o –

The Page Amendment is also silent on the issue of remedies. What could a judge order a school district to do? Well, your guess is as good as mine. Could a judge order an elected public school board to be dissolved and put the district in the hands of a receiver? Could a judge order that all teachers be fired and reapply for their jobs, or be replaced by a corps from Teach for America? How about dissolving a school or a district and ordering that it be replaced by a system of charter schools, as happened in New Orleans after Katrina? Maybe a judge could order that students be given their per pupil state aid to spend wherever they want? Vouchers!

Far fetched, you say? Not at all. The goal of the Page Amendment is really to make public school districts, particularly the large urban ones, die a death of a thousand cuts in aid of the school privatization agenda. This is why the Minneapolis Foundation and the Federal Reserve Bank have put so much money and effort into this initiative. It’s why the Page People have an office on the corporate reservation at Opus in Minnetonka.

– o O o –

Lastly, lest you think that the Page Amendment is not a Trojan-horse-public-schools shiv, consider the fact that it would turn evaluation of schools over exclusively to standardized tests. We’ll give Nelson Inz the last word here, transcribed from his remarks in the video.

We know that bias in standardized testing has always, since the origin of testing, been the basis for racist policies. I say bias, of course, as though a uniform achievement standard could possibly not be biased, but we know and as I teach my students [Inz is a middle school special education teacher in another district]  bias is inevitable in any human endeavor. The question is really whose bias and how strong. Originally of course, testing was used to support racist eugenics and sterilization policies. Now, of course, people use it to devalue entire community schools and districts for decades now, because we in Minneapolis public schools, serve those most in need. Our schools are called bad or failing. Our staff and our teachers and our leaders are vilified and criticized simply because they work with those most in need. What’s even worse is that these racist policies that denigrate our kids are cloaked in this language of a right to a quality education.

If the Page Amendment passes, look for the Wild West in education: vouchers, more charter schools, religious schools, home schoolers. Everyone will want a piece of the pie.

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