Why the Page Amendment can’t get a hearing at the Minnesota Legislature

There are conservatives and liberals on both sides of the Page Amendment — the plan to change the state constitution to make education a “fundamental right” of all children in Minnesota.

But it turns out the conservatives and liberals who oppose the idea are more powerful in the state Legislature than the conservatives and liberals who favor it. Neither the conservative chair of the Senate Education Committee nor the liberal chair of the House Education Policy Committee plan to hear the amendment this session.

It appears that the book has been closed on the Page Amendment.

Constitutional amendments are not subject to the Legislature’s self-imposed deadlines for action on bills, but House Education Policy Committee Chair Ruth Richardson, DFL-Mendota Heights, said the measure will not come to a vote and therefore has no chance of being on the November ballot.

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The committee held an informational hearing last year and the bill is active this session, but it won’t be heard again this session.

State Sen. Michelle Benson

State Sen. Michelle Benson

In the state Senate, the prime sponsor of the measure is Sen. Michelle Benson, R-Ham Lake, who said she is still trying to get a hearing from Senate Education Committee Chair Roger Chamberlain, R-Lino Lakes, but has so far been unsuccessful.

“He is a friend and we are in conversations,” Benson said of Chamberlain and the chances for getting the measure heard. 

One thing that could appeal to Chamberlain is language Benson wants added on parental rights, which would say: “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.”

Among DFL sponsors are many legislators who are members of the POCI (People of Color and Indigenous) Caucus. The prime sponsor in the House is Rep. Hodan Hassan, DFL-Minneapolis, who said the amendment would be another tool to help address racial disparities. She did not respond to requests to comment on the apparent death of the amendment.

State Rep. Hodan Hassan

State Rep. Hodan Hassan

Before session began, however, Hassan said that she doesn’t oppose Benson’s language addition and said she hoped to come up with other additions to ease opposition from the state teachers union, Education Minnesota. That has not happened, though. 

“If the House says absolutely not, I don’t know that there’s a path,” for the legislation, Benson said.

Like Richardson, Chamberlain opposes the amendment, though from a very different political perspective. Chamberlain, a conservative who is no friend of Education Minnesota, opposes the measure because he thinks it will lead to lengthy litigation that could end in the state Supreme Court ordering the Legislature to increase funding.

Named for former state Supreme Court Justice Alan Page and championed by Minneapolis Federal Reserve Bank President Neel Kashkari, the constitutional amendment seeks to replace the current education clause that calls for a “uniform system of public schools” with language that would establish an”equal right to quality public education.”

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Kashkari and Page have said they came to the amendment after discussing the gap between the educational achievement of white students and students of color. The proposed amendment also makes education “a paramount duty of the state to ensure quality public schools that fulfill this fundamental right.” 

The language is in other states’ constitutions and has been used in litigation to win substantial increases in school funding, including for teacher salaries. But Education Minnesota opposes the change, arguing that certain language in the amendment — “as measured against uniform achievement standards” — could enshrine standardized testing in the constitution.

The current constitutional clause also requires the Minnesota Legislature to provide enough money for a “thorough and efficient system of public schools,” and while the proposed “paramount duty” language might require similar funding, it could also require litigation and new court decisions.

Fed President Neel Kashkari and former Justice Alan Page

MinnPost photo by Peter Callaghan

Kashkari and Page have said they came to the amendment after discussing the gap between the educational achievement of white students and students of color.

The opposition of the teachers union has led many DFL members, and nearly all DFL leaders, to oppose the measure. Attorney General Keith Ellison is the only constitutional elected official to support it.

In fact, despite having a large team of lobbyists and bipartisan sponsorship, the backers of the amendment have gained no traction at the state Capitol. “It is unfortunate to watch the Legislature continue to cater to special interests over the urgent needs of students and parents, particularly those students who still suffer from some of the worst education gaps in the United States,” said a spokesperson for Our Children MN, the organization created by Page and Kashkari and others to push the measure.

“We continue to pursue various paths in both the House and the Senate because three-fourths of Minnesotans support passage of the Page Amendment across wide bipartisan margins and the voters should have a say in November.”

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