It’s About Equity
There's a trend building in several states that should be worrisome to Minnesotans. From Texas to Washington, people are suing their states over insufficient support for public schools. These states have provisions in their constitutions requiring the creation and maintenance of a robust public system of education. Of course, Minnesota has a similar provision.
Article 13, Section 1 of the Minnesota constitution says, “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.”
This is about “the people,” meaning all of the people. Our stability doesn't depend on the intelligence of the exceptional few, but rather on the outcomes of a “general and uniform system of public schools.” Our task is to educate all of our people. While we haven't done that yet, we must keep working toward it.
People have sued the state over this before, and they will do it again. I'm not particularly interested in the specifics of the legal battles. Instead, I'm interested in whether or not we're still committed to “a thorough and efficient system of public schools.”
How can our system be thorough if we've allowed its funding (after adjusting for inflation) to decline by 13% in less than a decade? How can our system be efficient in addressing the many needs of our students if we constrain more and more teachers with low-quality tests of a handful of skills? How can we raise the intelligence of our people when our state legislators are telling citizens in other communities to cut support to their local schools?
Too many of our policymakers seem content to watch our public schools wither. Some of them think a marketplace approach would do the job better. If free markets haven't created equity in food, housing, or health care, however, what makes us think they can do so in education? Our constitutional mandate is to support strong public schools. It's what's equitable, what's stable, and what's right.