NAZ Advocates for Two Bills This Legislative Session

by Danielle Bylund, NAZ External Communications Manager

This legislative session NAZ is at the capitol to advocate for Northside children and scholars. Two issues, in particular, are at the forefront of our efforts. First, the constitutional amendment which has been proposed by Minneapolis Federal Reserve Bank President Neel Kashkari and former Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Alan Page to change the language of the state constitution with regards to public education. State Representative Rena Moran (DFL-St. Paul) and State Representative Ron Kresha (R-Little Falls) introduced a bill to change the antiquated language Minnesota’s current constitution. The current language has not been updated since 1867.

Former Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Alan Page

Former Justice Page discussed the impetus of this project, “We think it’s a softer way of saying, we adults have failed children. That’s my focus, our failure and how do we rectify that.”

The current language:

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.

The proposed language:

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.

NAZ President and CEO Sondra Samuels and Representative Rena Moran

“Our students deserve an education vision that looks beyond uniformity and instead focuses on preparing our children to solve problems, explore their interests, explore their dreams and passions, and be equipped for success,” Rep. Moran told the crowd.

NAZ has signed on to support this amendment, and NAZ President and CEO, Sondra Samuels attended the press conference on February 25th in support of Rep. Moran and Rep. Kresha’s leadership on this issue.

The other bill making its way through the legislature is the Great Start for All Minnesota Children Act. This bill would use $500 million of the state’s $1.5 billion surplus to fund early childhood education and childcare scholarships and attempt to close the achievement gap.

Early childhood education is a vital part of NAZ’s investment on the Northside. As part of that investment, we collaborate with Think Small award scholarships to many NAZ families for early childhood education at our early childhood partner sites. 80% of brain development happens in the first 1000 days of a child’s life. Early childhood education is also an indicator of academic performance later in life. Unfortunately, NAZ’s funding for this program is coming to an end. We need the state to fund early childhood and organizations like NAZ more aggressively and consistently.

NAZ President and CEO Sondra Samuels, NAZ Board Vice-Chair and senior fellow at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs Art Rolnick, Andre Dukes, Senior Director, Collective Impact – Early Childhood, and two NAZ parents, Karla Smith and Saleemah Shabazz Salahud-Din attended both the press conference and the Senate Hearing. Sondra Samuels advocated for the bill at the press conference saying, “Our data has shown that we’ve had some remarkable success and it has everything to do with early childhood scholarships that we’ve been able to provide.”

NAZ Parent Saleemah Shabazz Salahud-Din

Saleemah, mother of four shared her story and advocated for the continuation and expansion of early childhood scholarships through this bill. “Oftentimes, when we get what we sometimes can perceive as a handout, we don’t think that we’re able to have quality schooling. With places like Think Small it is a demand that we have 3- and 4-star quality education centers which changes the way you think…from a handout to someone is properly invested in my child,” she said.

The achievement gap in Minnesota, which is one of the worst in the nation, is not just a moral failing but has the potential to be an economic failure as well. “We found when we took an economic lens bottom line is the best public investment you can make in this country is by making sure that these kids succeed and we know how to do it,” Art Rolnick explains. He went on to explain that multiple states across the nation have invested in early childhood and are seeing economic benefits through taxes, lower participation in welfare programs, and falling crime rates.

NAZ Board Vice-Chair Art Rolnick

Ultimately, both of these bills in the legislature are about leveling the playing field for our families and scholars. North Minneapolis has unlimited potential, but limited resources. These bills, one to fund early childhood education and the other to hold the state of Minnesota accountable to our values, seek to address not only the struggles of families on the Northside but the scholars and families state-wide that are not getting what they need from Minnesota schools.