Education Reform: A Seat At The Table - 04/26/2010
On April 20, a line was crossed at the legislature. At a conference committee hearing to discuss Minnesota’s Race to the Top application, several of my Republican colleagues found themselves without a seat at the table. This is not unprecedented. Conference committee hearings can be crowded because members of both the House and Senate meet together. What is unprecedented, however, is that one of the state’s most powerful lobbyists, Tom Dooher, was given a seat at the head of the table. This is unacceptable.
Dooher is the president of the teacher’s union Education Minnesota. According to Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board records, Education Minnesota’s political action committee gave the DFL House Caucus more than $285,000 in the last two election years--$129,500 in 2006 and $155,700 in 2008. During the same time Education Minnesota gave Republicans just $15,000. The union has spent millions over the years to help elect legislators to maintain the status quo. These funds could be put to better use at the local school district level to build positive relationships within our communities.
Having Education Minnesota’s top lobbyist sit between the House and Senate education chairs during a committee hearing is an embarrassment and a breach of integrity. Lobbyists and special interest groups are welcome to testify in committee hearings and serve a role in the legislative process, but they do not have the right to sit at the table. Those seats are for representatives elected by the citizens of this state. Allowing a lobbyist to sit in that position sends the wrong message to Minnesotans about who is making the decisions that impact them.
Fortunately, something like this will not happen again. On April 21, Rep. Marty Seifert proposed a rule change that would prevent lobbyists from sitting at the legislative table during committee hearings. After a lengthy discussion, the proposal passed with bipartisan support.
Recently, Minnesota placed 20th out of 40 applicants for extra federal education funding through the Race to the Top program. We were applauded in several areas, including our charter school environment and focus on STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) subjects, but criticized for lack of reform and not having the support of the teacher’s union (Education Minnesota).
As someone who served as an educator for 34 years, I know how important quality teachers are for the success of our children. Preparing children to succeed in the 21st Century economy should be our top priority, not appeasing a union. Governor Pawlenty has proposed several reforms that will make our state more competitive in Race to the Top and give us a better chance of being chosen in Round 2.
Here are a few of the proposals:
- Statewide teacher/principal evaluation system with 35% based on student achievement
- Adding principals to Q Comp and requiring it in every district
- Granting Commissioner of Education authority to intervene in low-performing schools
- Defining "highly effective teacher"
- Granting school districts and the state authority to place "highly effective" teachers in high-need sites and providing incentives for these teachers
Applications for the next round of Race to the Top funding are due June 1. Gov. Pawlenty has said he wouldn’t reapply unless progress is made in the reform effort this session. The state has a shot at $175 million in extra federal funding. The additional funding has obvious benefits, but we must pass these reforms, regardless, to better prepare our children to succeed.