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Education Clauses in State Constitutions Across the United States

January 8, 2020

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Education Clauses in State Constitutions Across the United States

This article documents the variation in strength of education clauses in state constitutions across the United States. The U.S. Constitution is silent on the subject of education, but every state constitution includes language that mandates the establishment of a public education system. Some state constitutions include clauses that only stipulate that the state provide public education, while other states have taken more significant measures to ensure the provision of a high-quality public education system. Florida’s constitutional education clause is currently the strongest in the country – it recognizes education as a fundamental value, requires the state to provide high-quality education, and makes the provision of education a paramount duty of the state. Minnesota can learn from the experience of other states. Most states have amended the education clause of their state constitutions over time to reflect the changing preferences of their citizens. Between 1990 and 2018, there were 312 proposed amendments on ballots across the country, and 193 passed. These amendments spanned various issues. Policymakers and voters in each state adopted the changes they deemed necessary for their education system. Minnesota has not amended its constitutional education clause since it was first established in 1857.

Constitutional language matters. We use Florida and Louisiana as case studies to illustrate that constitutional amendments can be drivers of change. Institutional changes to the education system that citizens of Florida and Louisiana helped create ultimately led to improved outcomes for their children. Minnesota can do the same. The first step is to amend the 1857 language to better reflect the preferences and needs of citizens in 2020.

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