ORIGINAL RESEARCH

Grants to official Page Amendment partners

Proposed Page Amendment is the Cruz-Guzman killer

Minnesota foundations scramble to save their favored highly-segregated charter schools by defending segregation

Rob Levine
April 26, 2021

As I grow older, I pay less attention to what men say. I just watch what they do.   - Andrew Carnegie

IN THESE DAYS OF RACIAL STRIFE it may surprise you to learn that one influential philanthropy based in Minneapolis is paying for arguments in court to allow segregated public schools. Another foundation is leading the charge to remove language from the state's constitution that courts have used to bar segregation in schools. What's going on here? Are the Twin Cities not the 'liberal' bastion people make it out to be?

The key to understanding the so-called “Page [constitutional] Amendment,” currently being considered by the legislature for inclusion on the election ballot for a referendum vote, is having some sense of the history of the debate and the “education reform” movement in Minnesota. On its surface, the amendment is an initiative by a children's author and education philanthropist, as well as popular former professional football player and Supreme Court Justice, Alan Page. But the real money behind the effort comes from large local foundations, and it is further supported by the financial and marketing muscle of the Minneapolis Federal Reserve Bank and its president, Neel Kashkari.

The amendment might more accurately be known as the Kashkari Amendment or perhaps the Minneapolis Foundation Amendment, but these monikers would obviously attract less support.

Mike Ciresi told MinnPost in 2014 that Minnesota children are entitled to a quality education under existing law

It is critical to understand that the amendment proposal is surely a response to a serious setback of the “education reformers” in a 2018 Minnesota Supreme Court case, Cruz-Guzman v. State of Minnesota, 916 N.W.2d 1 (Minn. 2018). The amendment would erase the holding in Cruz-Guzman, because the constitutional education provision on which it is based would be gone. It would throw education jurisprudence into disarray and remove important desegregation and integration protections from the constitution.

The Supreme Court’s Cruz-Guzman decision reversed a Court of Appeals decision and held that the plaintiffs, students of inner-city public schools, stated a claim under the Education Clause and the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Minnesota Constitution, and that the claims were “justiciable,” that is, a court could hear them. The case was sent back to the trial court for further proceedings and a potential trial, which is where it sits today.

The Page Amendment is best understood if you recognize these foundations' overall public education strategies. For 30 years the Minneapolis Foundation and its allies have been creating, funding, and persuading the legislature to loosen requirements on charter schools in the state. Over that same period, they have been pushing for data (test) driven education policies. The proposed Page Amendment would enshrine standardized test scores in the state constitution as the measure of educational quality, and remove language courts have used to fight school segregation. So for the foundations the proposed amendment is a two-fer. But it's even more than that.

One of the foundations' overarching education strategies – which they dare not say aloud – is to fuel the proliferation of charter schools through race or ethnicity-based appeals to parents. Take a look at the map of these charter schools overlaid with areas of concentrated racial poverty.

Charter schools started or supported by the funders in edhivemn.com database, overlaid with map of concentrated racial poverty

Or take a look at the chart below showing some of the foundations' biggest charter school recipients. All of these schools have student populations of 88% or more of one race/ethnicity. Together the eight segregated charter schools plus Minnesota Comeback – more on Minnesota Comeback later – have received more than $16 million from the nine shown foundations.

The Minnesota charter school segregation archipelago

Recently this segregation-based strategy has come under threat by developments in Minnesota education law. The class action suit Cruz-Guzman, filed in 2015, argued that segregated schools violate the constitutional rights of students, especially when government policy fuels that segregation. Charter schools in Minnesota have a legislative exemption from integration mandates, a law that was put in jeopardy by Cruz-Guzman.

One need only look at the two charter chains that get the most money from the foundations – Hiawatha Academies and KIPP Minnesota – to understand that threat. Hiawatha is a chain of five charter schools based in Minneapolis whose student population is about 88% Hispanic, in a city that is about 10% Hispanic. This racial demographic has not changed over time:

Hiawatha Academies are about 88% Hispanic

Hiawatha is a special project for the foundations, as they have accelerated investment in the chain to $1 million to $1.5 million a year:

As the foundations accelerated funding to Hiawatha Academies their test scores dropped in inverse proportion

Test score proficiency has dropped at Hiawatha in inverse proportion to the foundations' attentions:

As the foundations accelerated funding to Hiawatha Academies their test scores dropped in inverse proportion

The Minneapolis Foundation's created entity, Minnesota Comeback, made Hiawatha a major project, saying in their 2018 Annual Report that they were “strengthening their [Hiawatha's] academic model.” A year later test scores at Hiawatha were the same or worse, and Comeback disappeared, absorbed into another Minneapolis Foundation created entity, Great Minnesota Schools.

Here his how Minnesota Comeback described itself in its 2016 IRS 990 [emphasis added]:

Minnesota Comeback vetted charter schools to make recommendations to the Minneapolis Foundation for funding

They were fibbing a little there, as about one percent of their grants were made to regular public schools.

The foundations have had more than their share of failures at education reform over the decades, but pouring mountains of money into a chain of segregated charter schools and having test scores drop in inverse proportion to their intervention has to be among their worst.

It's a similar story at the foundations' second-most funded charter school chain, KIPP Minnesota, where the school population is 96% Black in a city that is less than 20% Black, and has been that way since it opened in 2008.

KIPP Minnesota is about 96% Black/African American

Even as local philanthropies have contributed about a half million dollars a year to KIPP . . .

The foundations pour about half a million dollars a year into KIPP Minnesota

Just as Hiawatha, test score proficiency has declined over time:

Like Hiawatha Academies, KIPP Minnesota test scores seem to decline in inverse proportion to the foundations attentions

The tale of accelerating foundation grants to the two largest charter chains in their portfolio, both segregated and poorly performing, shows the foundations' commitment to segregated schools. But there is much more evidence of this (unvoiced) strategy, including a raft of other schools just like those in the KIPP and Hiawatha chains – just as segregated, just as poorly performing.

With the Cruz-Guzman handwriting on the wall, the foundations decided to try to change the law

The Cruz-Guzman lawsuit and 2018 decision in it are an existential threat to segregated public charter schools. When the case was originally filed, three segregated charter schools sued to intervene – become parties to the case – to oppose it.

After the Supreme Court handed down its 2018 decision, the three charter schools (two very segregated and one moderately so, given where it is located) – backed by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools – filed a motion for summary judgment to exempt them and all charter schools in the state from the declaratory desegregation relief sought by the Cruz-Guzman plaintiffs. In other words, the charters tried to get out of the suit they had sued to get in. To aid them, the Minneapolis Foundation briefly took off its mask of concern for racial justice and gave the NAPC $20,000 for “defense of Cruz-Guzman.”

The Minneapolis Foundation briefly took off its mask of concern for racial justice in 2019 and gave $20,000 for “defense of Cruz-Guzman.”

The summary judgment motion did not prevail, and in June 2019, Hennepin County District Judge Susan Robiner refused the charter schools’ request to rule that the state's charter school exemption from desegregation mandates was constitutional, signaling that the Cruz-Guzman plaintiffs would probably win in court, and the parties began mediation discussions.

Six months later, a new non-profit organization was registered with the Minnesota Secretary of State called Our Children (MN), whose sole purpose is to pass an amendment to the state's constitution to radically change its language around education, and not coincidentally remove the language the court had used for the holding in Cruz-Guzman.

This is definitely not a coincidence. It’s a cynical subterfuge of anti-segregation law in Minnesota.

The face of the proposed amendment is Alan Page, a former pro football player who recently retired from the state's supreme court, but two real principals pushing the amendment are Michael Ciresi, the lawyer who won Minnesota's landmark case against the tobacco companies, and Neel Kashkari, the president of the Minneapolis Federal Reserve Bank.

Most people know Alan Page and Mike Ciresi, but many don’t know Neel Kashkari. A former Goldman Sachs executive and former Bush Administration Treasury official, Kashkari ran for governor of California in 2014 in the Republican primary as an enthusiastic charter school advocate.

The proposed amendment both adds and removes language from the section of the Minnesota Constitution that involves public education. Currently, Article XIII, Section 1 of the Constitution provides, in part:

“...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” [emphasis added]

The Minnesota Supreme Court's ruling in July, 2018, sending the Cruz-Guzman case back to the district court, said this when ruling for the plaintiff's motion to proceed with the case, writing:

“It is self-evident that a segregated system of public schools is not ‘general,’ ‘uniform,’ ‘thorough,’ or ‘efficient.’” [emphasis added]

But the proposed Page Amendment removes the words general, thorough and efficient, and recasts “uniform” as the results of standardized tests. A new Article XIII, Section 1 would read:

“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.” [emphasis added]

In short, the amendment removes the constitutional language underpinning Cruz-Guzman and other integration decisions. As lead lawyer for plaintiffs in the case, Daniel Shulman, wrote in response to the proposed amendment,

“Since they intend to eliminate the four key words of the present Education Clause, they [the Page Amendment advocates] need to answer the question, 'What effect will this amendment have on the Cruz-Guzman decision?'”

It’s a rhetorical question, of course. He undoubtedly knows the probable outcome for his lawsuit given passage of the Page Amendment. It's not a certainty that it will be moot, but the principal constitutional language that the Supreme Court relied on will be gone.

For the foundations that want to keep their segregated charter schools, the Page Amendment is a life saver. But it does even more than that for the foundations' education agenda by enshrining standardized test scores into the state constitution, which has been a goal of the foundations since before they got the first charter school law passed in 1991.

In 1988 the Minnesota Business Partnership, now a “Page Partner,” handed legislation it had written mandating annual statewide testing to Ember Reichgott Junge, the author of the later original charter school legislation. That testing bill didn’t go anywhere, but the Partnership got what it wanted with the 2001 federal No Child Left Behind bill.

Today the foundations are obsessed with testing and test data, having presented plans to turn schools into testing factories and funding non-profits that seem to do nothing more than use those numbers to produce fancy charts that look the same year after year.

Generation Next seems to do nothing more than produce fancy charts that look the same year after year.

THERE'S ANOTHER BIG THING THE FOUNDATIONS will get out of a Page Amendment approval – the possible revival of a suit brought by education reformers – filed by then Minneapolis Foundation board vice chair Nekima Levy Armstrong – that sought to invalidate teacher tenure in the state. That lawsuit, entitled Forslund v. State of Minnesota, 924 N.W.2d 25 (Minn. App. 2019), was dismissed by the Minnesota Court of Appeals which “...derived guidance from [the] Cruz-Guzman and Skeen,” cases that would be invalidated by the Page Amendment.

The Skeen case is Skeen v. State, 505 N.W.2d 299 (Minn. 1993) which held that an education is a fundamental right under Minnesota’s Equal Protection clause, even though it wasn’t a fundamental right under the federal equal protection clause. The Supreme Court held that because the current Education Clause mandated a system of universal education across the state. If a right is a fundamental one, it attracts the highest level of equal protection scrutiny against things like racial discrimination.

It is at least a small curiosity that Alan Page was a member of the Supreme Court at the time of the Skeen decision.

It is reasonable to assume that with passage of the Page Amendment Forslund plaintiffs will see a new opportunity to go back to court. The significant overlaps and interests between supporters of the Forslund case and the Page Amendment are evident in one local group in particular called Ed Allies.

The forces of “School Choice”

Ed Allies is the lead advocate for the 'school choice' vision of the Minneapolis Foundation. It evolved from the ashes of another closed local education reform outfit called MinnCan, and represents perhaps our clearest portal into the intentions of the local foundations.

Armed with $700,000 from the Minneapolis Foundation and $350,000 from the Ciresi Walburn Foundation for Children (CWFC), an official Page Partner, over the past four years, Ed Allies filed an amicus brief on the part of the appellants in Forslund, and one of its board members, Lew Remele, represented the plaintiffs in the case.

Now Ed Allies is a Page Partner, with deep ties to the CWFC, the philanthropy created and run by Ciresi himself, who was on the board of Ed Allies for three years.

Last year, the CWFC hired Ed Allies' Executive Director, Daniel Sellers to be the Executive Director of the CWFC foundation. About the same time the CWFC put up a web page with a message from Mike Ciresi urging “... Minnesota lawmakers to put proposed education amendment on ballot this fall.”

One month after the Page Amendment campaign began the Ciresi Walburn Foundation ran a full page ad for the campaign

Earlier, in 2019 and 2020 the CWFC gave $150,000 to a new group called Minnesota Parent Union (MPU), founded by educational outrage entrepreneur Rashad Turner, whose Twitter handle is “Ͳҽąçհҽɾʂ մղìօղʂ ҟìӀӀ օմɾ çհìӀժɾҽղ’ʂ հօքҽʂ + ժɾҽąʍʂ,” and whose feed is just a litany of hate and misinformation directed at those unions. Last year the MPU became a special partner with the Page Amendment campaign, and Our Children MN hired Turner to head up “Coalition Building” for the campaign. Turner's idea of “coalition building” mostly involves calling teachers and their unions racists:

Rashad Turner Twitter feed is just a litany of hate directed at teachers and their unions

The Page Amendment campaign also hired Kirsten Kukowski, former communications director for the Republican National Convention and communications director of Scott Walker's 2016 presidential campaign, as “Strategist and Communications Director.” You'll recall that one of Walker's most prized accomplishments was eviscerating the collective bargaining rights of teachers in the state.

These hires are in line with the ideology behind the Forslund suit's prime contention that somehow 'ineffective' teachers cannot be dismissed, and this presents a threat to children's rights to an 'adequate' education. This concern with 'ineffective' teachers was also the central tenant of the Bush Foundation's largest project ever – a $50 million, 10 year project they called the Teacher Effectiveness Initiative (TEI). The project, begun in 2009, posited that the problem with primary and secondary education is 'ineffective' teachers – just as the plaintiffs in Forslund. And just like Forslund the TEI went down in failure, albeit one the Bush Foundation proclaimed it was proud of.

A high percentage of Page Partners receive foundation grants

There's also something curious and disturbing about the official Page Partners – almost every one of them has gotten money from the foundations – some a lot – and many have members of the boards of the various foundations on their own boards.

The Northside Achievement Zone (NAZ), for example, has gotten more than $12 million from the foundations, including $1.7 million from the Minneapolis Foundation and $825,000 from the CWFC. NAZ is all-in for the Page Amendment. Its founder and CEO, Sondra Samuels, who has received more than $1.3 million in salary over the past 10 years, testified at the Minnesota legislature in favor of the amendment.

Carlos Mariani Rosa, sponsor of the Page Amendment in the Minnesota House, has been the Executive Director of an organization called the Minnesota Education Equity Partnership. Over the past 10 years Mariani Rosa has gotten more than $630,000 in salary from the organization, which itself has received more than $1 million from the foundations over just the past five years.

Mariani Rosa also sits on the board of another Page Partner, Migizi Communications, recipient of more than $825,000 from the foundations over the past decade, almost half a million dollars from the Minneapolis Foundation alone.

More telling is Great Minnesota Schools' decision to be a Page Partner. Established by the Minneapolis Foundation, the organization has received a whopping $8.7 million from the foundation over the past four years, and has had members of the Minneapolis Foundation's board on its board, including Al Fan and Whitney Benson. Great Minnesota Schools funds a portfolio of segregated charter schools in the metro area.

The Page Partners list also includes an organization called Way To Grow, whose CEO, Carolyn Smallwood, has been on the board of the CWFC for the past five years. Way to Grow has received more than $6 million from the philanthropies over the past 15 years, including $1.4 million from the Minneapolis Foundation and over half a million dollars from the CWFC since 2012.

Some Page Partners are relatively new organizations funded by the philanthropies. These include the Literacy Matters Foundation, registered in 2017 as a non-profit, the Young Women's Initiative (YWI), which turns out to be a project of the Women's Foundation of Minnesota, and Bridgemakers, which got started with a $50,000 grant this year from the Minneapolis Foundation. Literacy Matters has received $680,000 from the foundations over the past three years, $460,000 from the Minneapolis Foundation alone.

The YWI turns out to have started out with a $232,000 grant from the Minneapolis Foundation in 2019. The Women's Foundation of Minnesota, which said in response to an inquiry they weren't aware of the YWI endorsement of the Page Amendment, has received over $1 million from the foundations since 2014, and has had three employees/members of the Minneapolis Foundation on its board, which also includes Nevada Littlewolf, Campaign Manager and Executive Director of the Our Children campaign.

One important way that Page himself has accrued credibility among education activists is that for three decades he and his foundation have been encouraging youth of color to attend college, and giving them grants to help in that pursuit. The Page Education Foundation is not an official Page Partner, but it has received close to $1 million in funding from the Minneapolis, St Paul, Carlson Family and other local foundations over the past 10 years or so.

A campaign of feats of legerdemain

Finally, there is the Page Amendment campaign itself, a mishmash of the famous and the funded, peregrinating across the state capitalizing on the fame of Alan Page, the power of simple yet misleading arguments, the organizational opacity of Our Children, and a media uninterested in exploring the complexities of education policy.

Mike Ciresi said himself in 2014 that Minnesota children are entitled to a quality education under existing law

Seeing the bold-faced names and organizations supporting the Page Amendment people might think that adding the word 'quality' to the state's education clause could be a good thing. But this is belied by the dishonest campaign being waged by Our Children, which to this day has not revealed one penny of its funding. They drone on about how Minnesota children deserve a right to a 'quality' education, but courts in the state have ruled many times that a quality education is already required.

How do we know that? Ciresi himself said so! In a 2014 interview with MinnPost's Beth Hawkins, celebrating the (temporary) victory in a California lawsuit called Vergara that sought to restrict teacher collective bargaining rights, Ciresi and the author mused over whether similar legal action might be instigated in Minnesota. Ciresi told Hawkins that, in obvious reference to the Education Clause:

“In Minnesota we have a constitutional provision that says that all children are entitled to a quality education...we have a very strong constitutional provision.”

Which just happens to be the exact opposite of what Ciresi and his whole campaign have been saying for the past year and a half. Ciresi was correct in 2014, but he's prevaricating now. What happened in the interim?

In the 2014 California case, the Vergara trial court struck down parts of California’s education code that related to teacher tenure. It’s the case that Minnesota’s Forslund case was based on. Mike Ciresi undoubtedly thought that Vergara would be a useful precedent for what would become Forslund, and that the existing Education Clause would help. But he found out it didn’t.

In Vergara v. State, 209 Cal.Rptr.3d 532 (Cal. App. 2016), the trial court’s decision was rather emphatically reversed. In an ironic twist, the Minneapolis Foundation director Nekima Levy Armstrong filed Forslund on the same day that the Vergara case was reversed.

Moreover, the charter schools couldn’t get out from under the threat of Cruz-Guzman, and the Court of Appeals in Minnesota dismissed Forslund.

The solution? The Page Amendment.

Incidentally, when Neel Kaskari was running for governor of California in 2014, he was a big advocate for the trial court’s decision in Vergara. You can see that in this video interview.

Misleading about reform in other states

The Page Amendment campaign has made misleading descriptions of educational amendments enacted in other states, particularly Florida, which amended its constitution in 2002 to include the word 'quality' in its education clause. On its website Our Children says that the Florida amendment is “Nearly identical to the proposed Page Amendment,” which is an absurd lie given that Florida's amendment required both free universal Pre-K and smaller class sizes, two proven methods of increasing educational attainment. The proposed Page Amendment has no such mandates.

Ignoring the amendment's impact on integration law

The most glaring omission from the Page Amendment campaign is its silence on the proposal's impact on existing state law surrounding segregation and integration. It wants to remove the language that important cases – Skeen, Cruz-Guzman, Forslund – are built around, yet says nothing about what comes next. It's terribly irresponsible.

The Page Amendment: Who really cui bono?

The proposed Page Amendment provides three major services to the foundations supporting segregated charter schools in Minnesota:

1) It removes language from the state constitution that has barred segregation in schools. This removes an existential threat to the bevy of deliberately segregated charter schools in the foundations' portfolios.

2) It permanently enshrines standardized test scores as the measure of educational quality in state public schools.

3) It potentially resurrects a lost-cause lawsuit that tried to eliminate school teacher tenure and other union benefits gained through collective bargaining.

The list is not even exhaustive, as others have their fears/hopes about the effects of the proposed Page Amendment. For example, Education Minnesota, the state's teacher union, said in a statement last year that the proposal “paves the way for taxpayer-funded vouchers for private schools,” yet another goal of the foundations that is banned by the state constitution's current Education Clause.

The truth is that nobody knows exactly how the Page Amendment will play out given its passage. It erases in one fell swoop years of educational jurisprudence in Minnesota by fundamentally altering the state's constitution, and replaces it with the undefined concepts of 'quality' and 'uniform achievement standards.' As Daniel Shulman, lead lawyer for the Cruz-Guzman case has said, it takes us back to square one educationally, and its proponents should be asked whether they believe separate, segregated schools can ever be equal.

In the end, the Page Amendment's campaign of disinformation, information omission, and refusing to honestly debate critics shows just how weak their argument actually is. Will Minnesota abandon its history on education policy because a few rich, unaccountable foundations, powerful business interests, and influential lawyers were able to run a successful disinformation campaign? That's what happened with charter schools 30 years ago, and now has led us to the Page Amendment campaign to do away with the state's current Education Clause.

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RELATED LINKS

Internal Links

Grants to:

Ed Allies
Great MN Schools
Literacy Matters Foundation
Migizi Communications
Minnesota Parent Union
Northside Achievement Zone
Way to Grow
Women's Foundation of Minnesota

 

MN EDUCATION REFORM CORE

Teach for America $ 10,220,450
Great MN Schools $ 9,260,000
Minnesota Comeback $ 8,814,019
Hiawatha Academies $ 8,299,958
KIPP Minnesota $ 5,356,544
Charter School Partners $ 4,871,464
MinnCAN $ 4,155,592
Educators 4 Excellence, Inc. $ 3,302,313
Policy Innovators in Education Network Inc. (PIE Network) $ 3,192,289
Harvest Preparatory Charter School $ 3,099,438
Our Turn, Inc., nee Students for Education Reform (SFER) $ 2,352,750
Ed Allies $ 2,186,000
Charlemagne Institute - nee Intellectual Takeout $ 1,717,000
Harvest Network of Schools $ 1,524,539
Education Evolving $ 1,171,500
The New Teacher Project $ 416,206
Total: $ 69,940,062

 

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