Being an educator can be challenging. This past year of schooling has been one of the hardest for me and my colleagues. Our job has always held unique responsibilities, but it’s become exponentially more difficult because of the pandemic and distance learning. As an educator, I can only do so much for my students. To get through this pandemic, and to address the ripple effects it’s causing in education, the housing market, employment and health care, we need to re-examine our priorities as a state. We must prioritize education. We must pass the Page Amendment.
Pre-COVID-19, Minnesota had some of the nation’s worst education gaps, with disparities across race and income categories, in traditional public and charter schools, and in both urban and rural areas of the state. Pandemic schooling will widen these gaps even further.
The Page Amendment is the brainchild of former Minnesota Viking and Supreme Court Justice Alan Page. The proposed amendment would provide every child in Minnesota with the civil right to quality public education. It is the best first step in addressing Minnesota’s widening education gaps. Our current constitutional language outlines a uniform and adequate education system. And it shows.
Minnesota ranks 47th in the nation for American Indian students who graduate high school on time, and 50th in the nation for Black and Hispanic students who graduate on time. Less than 1-in-4 Black students in Minnesota graduate from public high schools meeting proficiency standards to be deemed “college-ready.” Educational disparities are not confined to race: Low-income white students significantly trail higher-income white students in high school graduation rates, subject proficiency, and college readiness.
Ignoring these enduring disparities was disappointing prepandemic. Ignoring them now is criminal.
For me and my peers, addressing these gaps is logical. But, it’s also personal. We have watched helplessly as students fall through the cracks. We work together with families, but there are some things we just can’t overcome. Students are missing live class sessions because of technological issues. Parents are scrambling to work a job, or two, while homeschooling. The learning loss is massive and will continue once schools are reopened.
By equipping each Minnesota child with the civil right to quality public education, we are centering education around the children and families who access it. The amendment will also ensure that educators have a larger role in designing a system that works for all children.
Despite legislators’ many good-faith attempts to close the gaps for the past two decades, we have made no progress.
As an educator, I work hard every day to help my students find success, but I cannot do it alone. The disparities in education won’t go away overnight, but the Page Amendment will drive systemic change that I cannot. The state owes it to our children. They deserve better than adequate. They deserve quality.
Jessie Begert teaches kindergarten at Andersen United Community School. She lives in Minneapolis.
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