Gov. Tim Pawlenty says it's "highly unlikely" that Minnesota will apply for a second round of federal "Race to the Top" funding, after lawmakers failed to pass any of his education policy changes during the session that ended Monday.
"Based on the Legislature's absolute failure -- and I mean absolute failure -- to meaningfully address education reforms that are a growing matter of consensus in the nation, it is highly unlikely that we'll proceed with that application," Pawlenty said during a Monday press conference.
Minnesota wasn't named a finalist for money during the federal government's first round of funding earlier this spring. When that happened, Pawlenty demanded lawmakers change a number of laws to bolster a second application.
Chief among those demands was a push for changes in the way teachers are licensed and how they're evaluated. The licensure issue was centered on creating a quick but stringent process for mid-career professionals who want to become teachers to get licensed. The governor also wanted teacher pay linked more closely to student performance and a rating system for teacher effectiveness.
But no such bills passed this year, which the governor blamed squarely on the political influence he said the state's teachers' union has over the DFL-led Legislature.
"There's one group that controls those decisions," he said, referring to Education Minnesota. "They have disproportionate influence over one caucus in the Legislature."
However, union president Tom Dooher said his group's opposition was based on the standards that must be met to become a teacher.
“Based on the Legislature's absolute failure ... it is highly unlikely that we'll proceed with that application.”Gov. Tim Pawlenty
"There were some other proposals that would weaken the standards, and put less-qualified people into classrooms where the kids need the attention most," said Dooher. "We will always stand strong on high standards for teachers because that's going to put the best and most trained people in front of our kids, which we believe is the right thing to do."
Lawmakers had rejected similar proposals in recent years, but this year's battle was especially heated, given the potential for "Race to the Top" money, which advocates said could be the last new funding to come to Minnesota for the next few years. In the first round, only Tennessee and Delaware won funding.
The award would have brought as much as $175 million in new education money to Minnesota over the next four years, if the state had applied and won. Round two applications are due June 1. By not submitting a second application, Minnesota would join a handful of other states -- including South Dakota and Kansas -- who applied in the first round but plan to sit out in round two.
Bill Walsh, a spokesman for the state's Education Department, said the governor and Education Commissioner Alice Seagren will likely meet this week before formally making a decision on the application. Seagren had previously said a second bid would be futile without the changes, because the state would essentially submit the same application that has already failed once.
The effort to change some of the teacher licensure provisions attracted support from some DFL lawmakers, including Sen. Kathy Saltzman of Woodbury.
"This was never intended as an assault on our teachers," Saltzman said Monday, shortly before lawmakers adjourned for the year. "It's really a way that I think embraces the importance of a teacher in a child's life, and that's what's most frustrating because it's been seen as an attack, and that's a spin on what's really been happening here at the Capitol."
House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher, DFL-Minneapolis, recently won the endorsement from Education Minnesota in her own bid for governor this year. She said that endorsement played no role in the failure of those proposals to pass the House.
"The most effective teacher you can put in front of a young person is a well-qualified, well-trained teacher who has classroom management skills," said Kelliher. "It's not about lowering standards - it's not about making it easier, it's about making sure we are getting the best and brightest into teaching."