Executive Branch Role: If the Governor and Department of Education fail to provide the legislature with the data it needs to create and maintain a thorough, efficient, general and uniform system of education, the legislative branch simply cannot do its job, and frankly, neither Republican nor Democratic governors have stepped up to their constitutional duty. The constitution requires maintenance of a thorough and efficient system of public education,. A legislature is not equipped to create a system on its own: the executive must lead with data, policy, and proposed legislation.
We see an example of the importance of the executive branch in developing an effective system in the current health care debacle. A legislature needs the executive branch to provide professional expertise necessary to conduct legislative business.
The failure of governors from both parties courageously to address the financial needs required for adequate education is an example, Both Governor Dayton and Governor Pawlenty convened commissions to examine Minnesota's school finance system, but in each case, both governors barred their respective commissions from telling the legislature what it would cost to provide all students with the state mandated statutory system of education found in law. No Governor, not Pawlenty, Dayton, Anderson, Ventura, nor any other, has ever submitted a budget to the legislature that would fund the programs required to meet state standards for all students. No Governor, has ever even conveyed the cost information to the legislature so that the legislature could conduct its business with information on what is actually required to fund an adequate education.
The executive branch's role is not limited to budget. The executive branch has an important role in courageously describing the administrative changes necessary to deliver education of high quality to all children. To be effective, this leadership must deliver adequate information on what structural issues are impeding success.
Part of the problem with Minnesota's education system is that the executive branch lacks a tradition of providing information that might offend political interest groups. For example, the impact of seniority and tenure is basically off the table under Democratic administrations. (I don't suggest that seniority and tenure needs to be changed: I merely suggest that an honest review of that topic is politically off the table.) Similarly, the impact of labor union's involvement in metro school board elections is off the table as well. If we are to truly have a thorough and efficient, general and uniform system of public education, we need a cultural change in the executive branch that would deliver quality information, outside of the political arena, on what it is going to take to meet our educational goals.
Legislative Branch Role: The legislative branch plays a central role in delivering the adequate education that the constitution requires, and the legislature is expressly assigned a leading role in Minnesota's constitution. But it would be a huge mistake to suggest education is the one and only governmental function which is the responsibility of the legislative branch alone. The Minnesota constitution treats public education as a specially important function. It would be strange indeed, if the authors of our constitution meant to immunize this most important function from constitutional review. The twin Washington cases, Seattle School District and McCleary, help explain the proper relationship between the legislature and executive in defining educational adequacy.
In the Seattle School District case, the Washington Supreme Court recognized that, (as in Minnesota), the State's Constitution allocates the primary responsibility to define educational adequacy (what the court referred to as the required basic education) to the legislature. Seattle School District No. 1 v. State, 585 P.2d 71 (1978):
“While the Legislature must act pursuant to the constitutional mandate to discharge its duty, the general authority to select the means of discharging that duty should be left to the Legislature,” the Court held.
Judiciary's Constitutional Role:
But a constitutional requirement becomes meaningless if the legislature can ignore it entirely. If the constitution requires the legislature to deliver a high quality education, the constitutional right is meaningless, or nearly so, unless there is the potential for judicial oversight. If the legislature were overtaken by anti-public school advocates, who thereafter began to dismantle the public school system, surely the Courts would have an obligation to intervene. Indeed, one of the really troublesome implications of the Court of Appeals Cruz-Guzman decision, is that it might be read to suggest that a rogue legislature could cripple the public school system without any judicial remedy.
The Seattle School District decision the Washington Supreme Court contains the answer to this careless and perhaps unwitting suggestion that the constitutional mandate is an empty meaningless gesture. The legislature cannot cheat the next generation of citizens by shortchanging them of the basic education necessary to thrive in today's economy. The constitution mandates more:
The State's constitutional duty goes beyond mere reading, writing and arithmetic. It also embraces broad educational opportunities needed in the contemporary setting to equip our children for their role as citizens and as potential competitors in today's market as well as in the market place of ideas. (citing Robinson v. Cahill, (New Jersey 1973).... Education plays a critical role in a free society. It must prepare our children to participate intelligently and effectively in our open political system to ensure that system's survival. It must prepare them to exercise their First Amendment freedoms both as sources and receivers of information; and, it must prepare them to be able to inquire, to study, to evaluate and to gain maturity and understanding. The constitutional right to have the State “make ample provision for the education of all (resident) children” would be hollow indeed if the possessor of the right could not compete adequately in our open political system, in the labor market, or in the market place of ideas.In short, the legislature's responsibility is informed by its constitutional duty, and the Court has the right to review whether the legislature has conducted its duty seriously.
Recall in our last post, we pointed out that Minnesota, like many other states in the 1970's and 1980's imposed no substantial educational requirements on local districts. One of the major developments in constitutional education law during this time period was the emergence of judicial decisions defining constitutionally required basic education. This development in some state Supreme Courts occurred in tandem with the "standards movement," in which states began to develop robust and rigorous academic content standards in legislation or in regulations.
Legislative standards and constitutional adequacy standards occurred in parallel, as professor Rebell explains:
Standards-based reform substantially enhanced the fledgling educational adequacy notions alluded to in Rodriguez and others of the early fiscal equity cases. "Adequate education" was no longer a vague notion which, almost in passing, could be assumed to describe any state education system. The concept now had substantive content, and its underlying message was that most state education systems and certainly many school districts that served predominantly poor and minority students could probably be assumed to be below, and not above, the level of substantive expectations. Rebell, EDUCATION Adequacy Litigation And The Quest for Equal Educational Opportunity, Studies in Judicial Remedies and Public Engagement (1999)In our next post, we'll explore the role of the three branches further.
Past Series on Education and Constitutional law:
McCleary v. State, Part I McCleary v State Requires Legislature to Base Funding on Actual Cost
Jvonkorff on Education McCleary v. State, Part II
McCleary v State and Determining the Cost of Education
Jvonkorff on Education McCleary v. State, Part III
McCleary v. State: what level of scrutiny is appropriate for legislative funding decisions
Jvonkorff on Education McCleary v. State, Part IV
Correlating the cost of education: fund the child.
Jvonkorff on Education McCleary V. State Part V
Summary of Decision Network for Excellence
Washington Supreme Court Blog
JvonKorff on Education, The Rose Decision
Minnesota's School Finance System is Unconstitutional, Part I
Minnesota's School Finance System is Unconstitutional, Part II
Minnesota's School Finance System is Unconstitutional, Part III
Minnesota's School Finance System is Unconstitutional, Part IV