Pawlenty says no to possible $175M in federal education grantsby Tom Weber, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — Gov. Tim Pawlenty confirmed Tuesday that Minnesota will not re-apply for federal education funding under the Race to the Top program.
Minnesota missed out in the first round of awards and the governor says lawmakers didn't pass any of the reforms he says would be needed to strengthen a second application -- which could have ended in a $175 million payoff.
The governor had said the only way Minnesota would be competitive in a second round of funding would be to pass what he considered necessary reforms. Those include crafting a way for mid-career professionals to become licensed teachers, as well as tying teacher evaluations to student performance.
UNION AT THE CENTER OF DEBATE
Pawlenty blamed political influence of Education Minnesota for sinking those proposals. He said lawmakers have essentially out-sourced all decisions on education policy to the union.
"What we saw this session should be an embarrassment to the DFL controlled legislature -- they continued to put the interest of union members ahead of the interest of school children," Pawlenty said.
The governor had sought these proposals before, but said his case was made stronger this year when Minnesota lost out on the first round of Race to the Top money.
He said his reforms would address areas of the application where federal reviewers deducted points. Reviewers also said they deducted points because Minnesota didn't have support from its teachers union, but other issues were also found in the application. At least two reviewers noted that they couldn't decipher some graphs and charts, leading to criticism that the application was sloppy.
Democrats have criticized the governor for waiting until late in the spring legislative session before making his demands that these laws pass in order to apply for the money again. Minnesota will now pass on the chance for as much as $175 million that would be spread out over hundreds of school districts over four years.
Education Commissioner Alice Seagren acknowledges the money probably wouldn't have a huge impact, but the debate over these issues would. She said Congress is likely to include changes like those the governor was pushing during its renewal of the federal No Child Left Behind law. And she said Minnesota could have been a leader.
"I'm not going to bash the union, but I'm going to say I'm so very disappointed that they can't get over their concerns and not work cooperatively with us in creating a lot of these things that we need to do and go forward with," she said.
UNION DEFENDS POSITION
The union has said its opposition to those laws was based on protecting teachers and keeping the state's standards high for those who enter the teaching profession.
Education Minnesota President Tom Dooher said today that Pawlenty should reconsider his decision to not re-apply. But Dooher also said he disagrees with the claim that the governor's ideas were the only solution for improving the application.
"The problem with this governor is that if you disagree with him on policy, he calls you an obstructionist," Dooher said. "The governor and his staff need to come to grips with the fact that the gimmicks he proposes and is trying to sell are not what are needed to solve the problems in a modern school classroom."
Dooher also said the governor's proposed changes wouldn't address the main goal of Race to the Top of closing the achievement gap. That's the gap between how well white students perform, compared to students of color.
Minnesota isn't the only state that applied in the first round that's now skipping round two. Others include Kansas, Indiana, South Dakota and Idaho.
Today's decision won't end the debate, though. Pawlenty said it should be an issue during this fall's campaign.