Minnesota Fed President Neel Kashkari has thrown his weight, and the weight of his supposedly “independent” organization, behind a push for an amendment to the state’s constitution that would “require the state to guarantee that every child achieve a specific educational outcome.” James Freeman reports at The Wall Street Journal:
Sounds like it’s intended to be an end-run around elected officials to enshrine a vaguely defined new right in the state’s constitution. What could possibly go wrong?
Here’s the current language in the Minnesota constitution:
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.
Here’s the language advocated by the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis:
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.
Last year Katherine Kersten warned in an op-ed in the Minneapolis Star Tribune:
The amendment carries such potential for mischief, in part, because it would create a “positive” right. It would not just limit government power, as a right to free speech does, but would require the state to guarantee that every child achieve a specific educational outcome. That’s like purporting to give all children a constitutional right “to be a successful high school athlete” or “to have a happy, healthy life.”
Put another way, the amendment mandates an outcome we don’t know how to achieve and doesn’t specify how we are to accomplish it.
Moreover, the amendment would make ensuring this new “fundamental right” our state’s “paramount duty.” In legalese, that means K-12 funding would always get “first dollar,” crowding out vital priorities such as higher education, public safety and health care in hopes that someday “quality” schools will be achieved.
Given the unpredictable results when courts start trying to decide who will pay and how much and to whom, even some liberals are skeptical. Hamline University political science professor David Schultz warns:
The language is not a self-executing amendment, but it will require legislative action to define what are “the skills necessary for participation in the economy, our democracy, and society.” This mandates important decisions to be made to define these skills, how to construct a curriculum to achieve desired goals, who can teach, and how to fund all of this…
Current constitutional language does not prevent the development of any of this; the problem has not been law but political will. New constitutional language as suggested by Page and Kashkari too will not guarantee it, but instead would potentially push critical decisions about educational decisions into the courts, where judges will have to make these decisions. It is not clear that this approach is desirable, and it leaves policy formulation up to the distortions of plaintiff legal strategy — and not one necessarily based on promoting overall sound educational policy.
Gerald O’Driscoll, former vice president at the Dallas Fed, writes via email:
It certainly goes beyond what Fed presidents do traditionally. I could see a Fed President hosting a conference on education at his bank. Traditionally, the regional banks have been encouraged to be helpful on education by providing training to teachers, and putting on conferences, etc… If he truly wants to help the education system, perhaps he should examine the role of unions.
Good call, Jerry! For anyone tempted to believe that enlisting courts to mandate more spending will solve the problems of U.S. education, Mark Perry at the American Enterprise Institute offers some relevant history:
As a direct result of public school staff (both teachers and non-teachers) growing so much greater (57% and 152% respectively) than the increase in public school students (11.3%) between 1970 and 2018, the inflation-adjusted cost of educating a student in US public schools increased by 156.2% between 1970 and 2017…
With the 156% inflation-adjusted increase in spending per public school pupil… have there been any demonstrable educational improvements in student test scores? Unfortunately, No… recent NAEP test results show that average reading scores for students in grade 12 declined from 292 in 1992 to 285 in 2019, the lowest average score during the 1992-2019 period. Average math scores for 12th graders have been flat since 2005.
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