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Union draws the gov.'s ire over officials' shortcomings on education

ST. PAUL -- Minnesota will not try to get bonus federal education funds because the Legislature did nothing to reform education, as required by the Obama administration, Gov. Tim Pawlenty announced Wednesday.

The problem is the Education Minnesota teachers' union, he said, which has "a controlling influence" over Democrats who control the House and Senate.

Education Minnesota President Tom Dooher said that changes Pawlenty wants would not work.

"The governor and his staff need to come to grips with the fact that the gimmicks they are selling are not what is needed to solve the problems in a modern day classroom," Dooher said.

The Legislature adjourned for the year at mid-day Monday, meaning Minnesota is out of contention for the money that will be awarded later this summer since, in Pawlenty's view at least, legislation was needed for a successful application.

In his Capitol office, Republican Pawlenty urged Minnesota voters to "look to candidates who are willing to put their interest in Minnesotans first."

Minnesota missed the first round of the federal Race to the Top funds, and President Barack Obama's education leaders said the state would need to reform some education policies before it would be considered for up to $175 million in the second round.

Pawlenty and Education Commissioner Alice Seagren had urged lawmakers to pass a list of reforms, including evaluating teachers and principals based on student performance and providing an easy way for professionals to become teachers. Both concepts, and others, were strongly opposed by Education Minnesota.

The normally mild-mannered Seagren said on Wednesday that Minnesota has been "bought and sold" by Education Minnesota.

The governor praised Senate education leaders such as Sen. LeRoy Stumpf, DFL-Plummer, for attempting to pass education reform. But Seagren said that for the most part "legislators are very afraid to step up," especially in the House.

Education Minnesota is a major contributor to Democratic-Farmer-Laborite campaigns.

"The governor's decision not to apply for a Phase 2 Race to the Top application is a great disservice to the state of Minnesota and we're calling on him to reconsider," Dooher said. "The governor would have us all believe that if we don't do things exactly the way he wants them done then this application is doomed to failure."

Dooher said legislation is not needed to win the funds.

Pawlenty, however, said that while he will look for ways his administration can reform education, the key things that need to be done must happen legislatively.

Davis reports for Forum Communications Co.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.