By Mike Kaszuba
With the U.S. in the middle of a worldwide pandemic and the impact of a new federal economic stimulus package still to be determined, Neel Kashkari had plenty to digest in March 2021.
But the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis was scheduled to spend much of the month on another topic: a proposed change to the state constitution that would alter Minnesota’s commitment to public education.
Kashkari’s calendar showed him taking part in 26 meetings on education policy issues that month, sometimes meeting twice a day trying to influence key state legislators, corporate leaders in Minnesota, and local school superintendents. Nearly all the meetings included Alan Page, the retired state Supreme Court justice who has joined Kashkari in pushing for the so-called Page Amendment that bears his name.
Kashkari’s push for the Page Amendment appeared to consume a substantial part of his 2021 calendar – he took part in six meetings in one day with Page in February 2021 and participated in four discussions with Page in one day in December 2021. A year before, in December 2020, Kashkari and Page held a morning video conference meeting with five top Target Corporation officials and three hours later the two men held another video conference meeting on “education policy issues”, this time with the chief executive of Medtronic.
Public Record Media (PRM), a non-profit based in Saint Paul, reviewed Kashkari’s public calendars over a 13-month period beginning in December of 2020. The calendars offer a detailed look into how much time Kashkari and his staff – despite their Federal Reserve banking duties – have put into lobbying for the Page Amendment, which still needs the approval of the Minnesota Legislature.
Officials at the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis did not respond to PRM about whether the calendars are indicative of the Page Amendment’s importance to Kashkari given his other job duties. The calendars, which were posted on the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis website, also did not indicate how closely Kashkari adhered to his schedule.
One meeting in March 2021, which included Page and Kashkari, listed 14 staff members in attendance. In another meeting, also in March 2021, Kashkari and Page took part in a video conference with two attorneys representing the Home School Legal Defense Association regarding “education policy issues”.
In February 2021, nine meetings in two days
With the state legislature in session in February of 2021, the calendars show that Kashkari spent more time pushing the Page Amendment. On February 17, he participated in three meetings in one day – all with Page in attendance – that included a 30-minute session with the chief executive of Best Buy.
The next day, February 18, Kashkari took part in six meetings with Page and others on “education policy issues”. The day also included a meeting with two officials from the Minnesota Association of Christian Home Educators.
The calendars highlight the amount of time Kashkari has spent on state education policy in Minnesota, even as he heads one of 12 regional Federal Reserve Banks that shape the nation’s monetary policy. The Minneapolis-based regional bank, with more than a thousand employees, covers Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana and parts of both Wisconsin and Michigan. The regional banks are part of the Federal Reserve System, an independent arm of the federal government whose board of governors supervises the regional banks and the U.S. central banking system, and is itself overseen by Congress.
The calendars are just one indicator of how much Kashkari has personally invested himself in trying to pass the Page Amendment. Kashkari’s biography on the Federal Reserve of Minneapolis website offers another example. “Most recently,” the biography states, Kashkari “has joined with retired Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Alan Page to propose amending Minnesota’s constitution to make quality public education a fundamental right. This effort supports the Fed’s mandate to achieve maximum employment, with education being a key to obtaining a good job.”
In February 2022, a search on the Federal Reserve of Minneapolis website produced 3,925 results when the words Kashkari and Page Amendment were entered.
(Last year, a spokesman for the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis released Kashkari’s earlier calendars to PRM, and noted that Kashkari’s meetings on the Page Amendment showed the “very wide range” of individuals who were consulted in formulating the proposal. The calendars were released as the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis maintained that it was not subject to state or federal public information laws).
The proposed amendment – which has prominent supporters, and noteworthy critics – would change the language in the state constitution regarding education.
The new language would state that “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.”
It would replace the state constitution’s current language, which says that “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.”
Proponents of the Page Amendment have maintained that the measure would help to narrow Minnesota’s racial gap in education learning. In October of 2019, the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, which serves as the “research arm” for a group backing the amendment, released a 32-page report titled “A Statewide Crisis: Minnesota’s Education Achievement Gap”.
The report stated that “on average, Minnesota schools do well. The state ranks relatively high on standardized tests, graduation rates, and college readiness. But hidden beneath these aggregates are huge disparities. In fact, Minnesota has some of the largest achievement gaps by race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status in the nation.”
But the proposed amendment has high-profile opponents such as Education Minnesota, the state teacher’s union, which said the proposal “paves the way for taxpayer-funded vouchers for private schools.”
Other critics have also weighed in. “There is little to no evidence [that] simply amending the constitution would make a significant impact,” Yusef Mgeni, the vice president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in Minnesota, wrote to a Minnesota House committee in March 2021.
Kashkari met with Page nine times in 16 days
Kashkari’s calendars offer a comparison of how much time the Federal Reserve president — a former Republican candidate for governor in California — spent on other topics, and with other prominent people.
Kashkari met with Page nine times in 16 days in September of 2021. In comparison, the calendars list him as rarely meeting with U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar or U.S. Senator Tina Smith, Minnesota’s two Democratic senators, during all of 2021. (Klobuchar, the senior senator from Minnesota, is a member of the Senate’s Joint Economic Committee, whose primary task is to review economic conditions in the U.S. and recommend improvements in economic policy. Smith is a member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs.)
Similarly, while Kashkari participated in 26 meetings dealing with education policy issues in March 2021 – most of them with Page – the calendar listed just four meetings that month dealing with the lingering economic effects of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
And while Kashkari participated in a radio interview to discuss among other things the federal stimulus package in early January of 2021 – the month President Biden took office – his calendar showed him taking part in four meetings on “education policy issues” from Jan. 4 through Jan. 8 of 2021, all of them with Page also taking part.
The pattern was similar in September 2021.
On September 3 of 2021, Kashkari took part in a 30-minute video conference on climate policy issues with Tariq Fancy, a Canadian entrepreneur and former global chief investment officer for sustainable investing at BlackRock. It was the only mention of a climate change meeting on Kashkari’s calendar for that month.
Meanwhile Kashkari participated in 11 meetings that month that also featured Page, according to the calendars. On September 27 alone, Kashkari participated in four meetings with Page. In a one-hour “community conversation”, Kashkari and Page took part in a meeting that included Duluth’s mayor and the superintendent of Duluth’s public schools. The meeting, a discussion of “education policy issues”, was moderated by Duluth’s human rights officer, according to the calendars.
A week before, on September 20, Kashkari participated in a video conference with 19 people on “education policy issues” that was sponsored by the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce’s education and workforce policy committee. The other participants included top officials from Target Corp., HealthPartners, the McGough Construction Co., the Minnesota Grocers Association, and New Horizon Academy.
According to the calendar, the meeting also included Nevada Littlewolf, the executive director of Our Children MN/Page Amendment. Our Children is a leading advocacy group for the Page Amendment.
Kashkari’s calendars for November 2021 offered more examples.
On November 22 – three days before Thanksgiving – Kashkari took part in three meetings dealing with global supply chain issues. Among those at the meetings were the chief executive of Cargill, and the chief executive of 3M. He also held a meeting that same day on COVID with Mike Osterholm, the director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota.
But Kashkari also took part in a one-hour meeting that same day with strategists regarding the Page Amendment – and the next day, November 23, held two meetings on the Page Amendment that featured Page, according to the calendars. The second meeting that day also included Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, Ellison’s chief of staff, and also the state attorney general office’s outreach coordinator.
December 2020 provided more examples. During that month, the calendar shows that Kashkari took part in five meetings dealing with COVID – and seven meetings that featured former state Supreme Court justice Page.
On December 8 of that year, for instance, Kashkari participated in an early-morning video conference with two high-ranking officials from the National Institutes of Health regarding COVID. But later that day, he held two meetings with Page – both of which also included a board member of Our Children MN.
The calendars listed other meetings with both current and former state policy makers.
On February 17, 2021 – the day Kashkari and Page held three meetings related to “education policy issues” – he also took part in a meeting that, among other things, discussed the topic with an organization called the Minnesota Center Right group. According to the calendars, the meeting was hosted by Brian McClung, the press secretary to former Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty.
On March 22 of 2021, meanwhile, Kashkari and Page took part in a one-hour video conference with nine DFL state legislators – all of them on the 19-member Minnesota House Education Policy Committee.
Federal Reserve website showcases other amendment activity
Kashkari’s calendars are not the only item on the Federal Reserve of Minneapolis website that reflect his work in pushing the Page Amendment.
Less than two months after George Floyd was killed by police in Minneapolis, an event that was captured on video and touched off nationwide protests, Kashkari and Page used an opinion piece to try to link the problems of police brutality with the issues they said were plaguing the state’s public education system.
“While it can’t be captured in a short, powerful video, our education system, in its own way, has been quietly, but persistently, denying equal educational opportunity and killing the futures of children of color, Indigenous children, and low-income White children for decades,” they jointly wrote in July 2020.
“Is it hyperbolic to make a comparison between the abuse of police power and an education system that is failing so many Minnesota students? No, it is not,” Kashkari and Page added.
The Federal Reserve of Minneapolis website also features testimonials from prominent Minnesotans on the need for the Page Amendment.
“The business community is committed to closing Minnesota’s education achievement gaps,” Doug Baker, the outgoing executive chairman of Ecolab, which was founded in St. Paul, stated on the Federal Reserve of Minneapolis website. “This amendment is a potential game changer that can finally break through politics and put all Minnesota children first.”
Carlton Jenkins, a former superintendent of Robbinsdale’s public schools, is also featured on the Federal Reserve website. “I support the proposed amendment to Article XIII, Section 1, of the Minnesota State Constitution by President Kashkari and Justice Page,” Jenkins wrote. “If accepted, this recommendation will serve as the foundation in transforming outcomes for all children, families, and communities in the state of Minnesota.”
The website likewise shows how Kashkari and Page have been promoting the Page Amendment in speeches across Minnesota. The website includes promotional material for an event held in Mankato in February 2020, which was titled, “A Community Conversation in Mankato on Educating All Children.”
“The [Federal Reserve] Bank recently released an in-depth report highlighting the vast differences statewide in educational outcomes for Minnesota children by race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status,” a promotional overview of the event states.
“Kashkari and Page looked across the nation to see what other states have done to solve this critical problem,” it added. “From that review, they developed their amendment proposal, a bold and powerful tool to put children first and to ensure that all children receive a quality education so they can reach their full potential.”