Litigation

The Supreme Court of Minnesota held in 1993 that the Minnesota Constitution creates a fundamental right to a “general and uniform system of education” and requires the state to provide sufficient funding to ensure that each student receives an adequate education. However, the court concluded that the fundamental right does not extend to the funding of the education system, beyond providing a basic funding level to assure that a general and uniform system is maintained.  A 1995 case brought by the Minneapolis NAACP was settled in 2000.

Status & Recent Developments

There have been no recent developments in educational opportunity litigation in Minnesota.

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Major Cases

In Skeen v. State, low-property-wealth suburban and rural school districts sued the Minnesota Board of Education and Commissioner of Education, alleging that the Minnesota school finance system created unconstitutional disparities in educational funding and opportunity related to property wealth. 505 N.W.2d 299 (Minn. 1993). A number of wealthier school districts intervened and joined the case as defendants. The trial court held that the funding system violated the constitutional guarantees of Minnesota’s education and equal protection clauses.

The Minnesota Supreme Court rejected plaintiffs’ claims and reversed.  The court first considered plaintiffs’ claims under the state constitution education article, but concluded that the “general and uniform” language did not require full equalization of funding, and that any inequities which existed did not rise to the level of a constitutional violation under that provision, especially because the existing system met the basic educational needs of all districts.

The court then turned to plaintiffs’ equal protection claim, and held that Minnesota students have a fundamental right to a “general and uniform system of education.” However, the court concluded that the fundamental right does not extend to the funding of the education system, beyond providing a basic funding level to assure that a general and uniform system is maintained.  The court therefore applied a rational basis test in evaluating the funding system, and found that the disparities were rationally related to the state’s legitimate interest in encouraging local districts to supplement state funding.

Nevertheless, the court specifically noted that the Minnesota Constitution requires the state to provide enough funds to ensure that each student receives an adequate education and that the funds are distributed in a uniform manner, though it found that the state was currently satisfying this mandate.

In 1995, the Minneapolis NAACP sued the state, alleging that the state had violated the state constitution’s education and equal protection clauses by providing low-income and minority children inferior schools.  In 2000, the parties reached a settlement, under which the state agreed to

  1. cover the costs of transporting some Minneapolis children from low-income neighborhoods to suburban school districts,
  2. ensure that students from low-income families would be given priority for slots at popular magnet schools, and
  3. issue school report cards and overhaul schools that do not meet performance standards.
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State Constitution Education Article

“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.” Minn. Const., art. XIII, § 1.

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Court Interpretation of Education Article

In Skeen v. State, the Supreme Court of Minnesota extensively considered the structure and constitutional history of the Education Clause as well as case law from other states regarding similar language.  Though it did not say so explicitly, the court implied that it was adopting much of the language from decisions in other states.  The court first concluded that the definitions that other states had adopted for a constitutionally adequate education “all focus on the broad purposes of an education system and emphasize that such a standardized system be established throughout the state.”   505 N.W.2d 299, 311 (1993).  The court then explained:

Construing “uniform” as meaning “identical” (or “nearly identical”) would be inconsistent with a plain reading of the Education Clause as well as this court's and other state court's interpretation of similar phrasing.

In addition, none of the state cases cited above has required complete funding equalization; in fact, most of these cases have explicitly stated that local funding levies would be permissible as long as the underlying basic needs have been met...In every case from another state in which a violation of a state constitutional provision was found, there were inadequacies in the levels of basic funding, and, consequently, a deficient overall level of education.”  Id.

The court then commented:

“Furthermore, in many of these other cases, even some in which the educational systems were ultimately declared unconstitutional, the courts noted that discretionary levies by local districts would be permitted if the baseline level of providing an adequate or efficient system of education was first achieved.” Id. at 312.

Therefore, the court therefore held that plaintiffs had not established “that the “general and uniform” requirement somehow implies full equalization of local referendum levies.” Id.

Nevertheless, in considering whether education is a fundamental right in Minnesota for equal protection purposes, the court held:

“the Education Clause not only contains language such as “shall” but in fact places a “duty” on the legislature to establish a “general and uniform system” of public schools. This is the only place in the constitution where the phrase “it is the duty of the legislature” is used. This, combined with the sweeping magnitude of the opening sentence of the Education Clause-“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”-provides further support for holding education to be a fundamental right.

Thus, on balance, we hold that education is a fundamental right under the state constitution, not only because of its overall importance to the state but also because of the explicit language used to describe this constitutional mandate.” Id. at 313.

However, the court concluded:

“The structure and history of the Minnesota Constitution indicates that while there is a fundamental right to a “general and uniform system of education,” that fundamental right does not extend to the funding of the education system, beyond providing a basic funding level to assure that a general and uniform system is maintained.” Id. at 315.

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Pre-K

Minnesota has three preschool initiatives.

The State invests the greatest share of its early education funding on its Head Start state supplement program, which provides funding to enhance services and expand slots in Head Start programs.  This program served only 1% of 4-year-olds and 1% of 3-year-olds during 2009-2010.

In 1991, Minnesota established its School Readiness Program for all 3.to 5-year-olds to prepare them for kindergarten.  Data on this initiative is not tracked at the state level; therefore, no assessment is available.

Funding for Minnesota's First Grade Preparedness Initiative is available to school districts with high numbers of students living in poverty; however, this initiative is aimed only at supplying funds to, rather than creating, programs.  Therefore, no assessment is available.

Overview

In order to “achieve the goal for increased school readiness of all Minnesota children,” the legislature is requiring the commissioners of education, human services, and health to identify ways to coordinate activities and resources related to early care and education.

Minnesota Head Start

Agencies currently receiving federal Head Start grants are eligible for this funding and can partner with other agencies including public schools, private child care centers, and family child care homes.  Service providers must follow federal Head Start Performance Standards.

Head Start programs receiving supplemental state funding serve 3- and 4-year-olds who are eligible based on a family income below the federal poverty level.  Up to 10% of enrollees may have a family income over the poverty level if they meet other criteria.

Head Start programs are required to operate at least 4 days a week for a minimum of 3 ½  hours a day.  Head Start programs can provide full-day services themselves or in collaboration with other licensed child care providers.

By the school year 2012-2013, at least 50% of children enrolled in the state-funded Head Start program must be in full-day programs.

School Readiness Program

Districts may also provide school readiness services by contracting with charter schools or community-based organizations, by paying tuition or fees to place an eligible child in an existing program or may provide relevant services in a child’s home.

School districts with school readiness programs must coordinate with relevant community-based services and cooperate with adult basic education programs and other adult literacy programs.

The School Readiness Program is open to all children between 3- and 5-years-old who have not entered kindergarten, although most district programs begin at age 3½. Children are prioritized for services based on a uniform health and development screening.

Children do not have to reside in the district that offers the program in order to attend.

There is no statutory or regulatory program length or duration requirement for the School Readiness Program.  

First Grade Preparedness

Schools with First Grade Preparedness programs must collaborate with other service providers of school readiness and child development services. 

The programs are available to any 4-year-old residing in the attendance area of a qualifying school that offers a preschool component as part of its First Grade Preparedness program. School sites qualify by being ranked according to each site’s free and reduced lunch count percentage for kindergarteners (or for the whole school, if greater).

There is no statutory or regulatory program length requirement for sites offering a 4-year-old pre-K component.

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Funding

Minnesota Head Start

The state appropriates aid for the Head Start supplement.  

School Readiness Program

The state appropriates aid for the School Readiness Program from the state’s general funds to the Department of Education for allocation to schools participating in the program.

Half of the available school readiness aid is allocated among the participating districts in proportion to the number of 4-year-old students participating in the program the previous year. The other half of the aid is allocated among the participating districts in proportion to the number of district students who were eligible for the free or reduced lunch program the previous year.

Participating districts are required to charge fees based on a sliding fee schedule, but must waive the fee for any participant unable to pay.

First Grade Prepardness

The First Grade Preparedness program is a grant program administered from state general funds appropriated to the Department of Education. Although not a "competitive" program, schools must qualify for funding based on geography and relative poverty.

School sites qualify by being ranked according to each site’s free and reduced lunch count percentage for kindergarteners (or for the whole school, if greater).

One-quarter of the available state funding for the program is allocated to each of four geographic areas of the state: Minneapolis, St. Paul, suburban Minneapolis/St. Paul, and the rest of the state. Separate eligibility rankings are maintained for each geographic area, and revenue is distributed to eligible schools within each area, beginning at the top of the list, until available revenue has been depleted.

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NIEER Analysis

According to the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER), the Head Start program served only 1% of 4 year-olds and 1% of 3-year-olds  in this program in 2009-2010. 

Quality Standards

The Head Start program, the only initiative evaluated by NIEER, met and exceptionally high 9 out of 10 benchmarks. 

The program does not require that teachers have a Bachelor’s degree, failing this NIEER benchmark.

The program does have a limited class size, an appropriate student to teacher ratio, and screening and referral services.  In addition, Head Start has a monitoring and site visit program and provides at least one meal a day to students.

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Program Evaluation

Each program must submit an annual report to the Department of Education.

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