Pawlenty, teachers union need peace talks
By Don Davis
State Capitol Bureau
ST. PAUL -- Gov. Tim Pawlenty and the Minnesota teachers' union may need to reach a truce if the state is to have any chance at a second round of federal education money.
But on Thursday neither side appeared ready to enter peace talks.
Tennessee won $500 million and Delaware $100 million in the first round of Race To The Top funding awards, announced last month, with $3.4 billion remaining for states like Minnesota that compete in the second funding phase.
Minnesota lost out on the initial federal funding because the state has done too little to reform education and the application lacked support from school-related organizations such as Education Minnesota, the teachers' union.
On Thursday, Pawlenty flew around the state lobbying for reforms he has sought for years, measures such as making it easier for professionals to become teachers at mid-career, linking teachers' and principals' job evaluations to student performance and giving the state authority to intervene in low-achieving schools.
The governor said that lawmakers refuse to pass reforms because Education Minnesota opposes them. If the Legislature does not approve reforms, he said that he will not apply for federal funds again.
"We need Education Minnesota to lighten up, loosen up its grip, on the status quo," Pawlenty said, adding that most legislators "have become afraid" of the 70,000-member teachers' union that donates heavily to politicians, especially Democrats.
Education Minnesota President Tom Dooher did not appear ready to cave to Pawlenty's requests.
"We are deeply disappointed that Gov. Pawlenty is obviously not serious about pursuing a second Race To The Top application," Dooher said Thursday. "Today's 'take it or leave it' ultimatum makes it clear he's made a decision to not attempt a second application."
Dooher said that Pawlenty is ignoring a key federal requirement to get the money, working with teachers.
Pawlenty and Education Commissioner Alice Seagren said that on average, Minnesota students do well in various tests, but the governor said that for disadvantaged students "the results are awful. ... We need to fix that."
Pawlenty and Seagren want to:
-- Allow professionals, especially in science and math, to have an easier pathway to become teachers. Education Minnesota has opposed the idea.
-- Enhance the existing Q Comp performance-pay-for-teachers law to establish a statewide system of evaluating teachers and principals based on student performance.
-- Establish a definition of an "effective teacher."
-- Require teachers to pass a competency test before being allowed in classrooms.
-- Give the education commissioner authority to step in to fix schools that are not meeting education performance guidelines.
Pawlenty said the Obama administration requires all of these things to happen before federal funding is made available.
The Republican governor said he passionately urges the DFL-controlled Legislature to pass the reform proposals so Minnesota can improve its education system as well as get federal money.
Charles Kyte of the Minnesota Association of School Administrators urged Pawlenty and Education Minnesota to work out their differences.
"This is not something that we should be doing to them," he said about teachers.
The top House education lawmaker said she is not optimistic that a new funding application will be forthcoming, given what she sees as Pawlenty's refusal to work with teachers. She complained that he is "poking them in the eye."
Rep. Mindy Greiling, DFL-Roseville, said that Pawlenty has avoided talking to her for months, but needs to talk to Democratic leaders and Education Minnesota to get federal money.
"He has to do some hard work, negotiate, to get some buy-in," Greiling said.