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Legislative News and Views - Rep. Steve Drazkowski (R)

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WHO STANDS IN THE WAY OF EDUCATION REFORM?

Friday, April 23, 2010
Recently Governor Pawlenty called on the Legislature to pass key education reforms this session in an effort to promote student achievement. Not only does this make good sense from a policy standpoint, but those who enjoy Washington freebies - and are willing to accept the unacceptable federal mandates that come with it - note that this could lead to Minnesota receiving $175 million as part of the federal “Race to the Top” program. Minnesota was not a finalist in the first round of funding allocations and federal reviewers said the state lacked important reforms such as alternative pathways to teacher licensure and linking teacher evaluations to student performance. This news did not shock me in the least. When it comes to education policy, there are some people at the Capitol trying to provide innovation to help move kids forward, and then there’s the powerful teacher’s union that’s most concerned about protecting its members and spending money on Democrats who will help it maintain the status quo. Education Minnesota has been nothing but a giant roadblock on the topic of alternative teacher licensure. But it is spearheading the effort to force taxpayers to bail out the teacher’s retirement system and to pay for a statewide teacher’s health insurance plan. Don’t let those glitzy TV commercials fool you. Education Minnesota is not lobbying at the Capitol for the kids. It’s not interested in improving Minnesota’s education system. Its only interest is having lawmakers spend more for teacher salaries and benefits, and helping elect lawmakers who will support those efforts. Education Minnesota and the EdMinn PAC are technically separate entities, but the PAC’s 2008 year-end report shows $691,320 in income from Education Minnesota coming in monthly installments of $57,610. The report also shows the union giving the PAC “miscellaneous income” totaling $93,946 that was “used to record staff time.” Remember, this money started off as taxpayer dollars. It was paid to teachers and the union extracted the funds from them, and those funds are now being used to lobby the legislature for more increases in the compensation and benefits of their membership. According to Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board records, the EdMinn PAC gave $155,700 to the Minnesota DFL House Caucus in 2008, the most recent election year. This figure does not include the individual contributions the PAC makes to the dozens of individual state Democratic candidates during that year, as well as the token Republican so it can make the laughable claim of being bipartisan. It’s safe to say the EdMinn PAC has spent millions trying to elect Minnesota House Democrats over the years, and their leaders don’t even try to hide the fact that they’re working hand in hand with each other. During a recent legislative hearing on Minnesota’s “Race to the Top” application, Democratic leaders allowed Education Minnesota President and registered lobbyist Tom Dooher (remember him from the non-stop TV commercials?) to sit at the head of the table next to the House and Senate education chairs and the education commissioner. This is unheard of at an official legislative hearing, and the message it sends about special interest influence at the Legislature is deplorable. When will we begin letting Minnesota Chamber of Commerce President David Olson preside over the next legislative hearing on economic development? Or maybe we could find a chair up front for Zygi Wilf when legislative leaders decide to hold a hearing on a Minnesota Vikings stadium? It takes a bit of arrogance to claim that special interests and their campaign contributions really don’t make an impact in state government, but it takes a special kind of gall to actually give a seat of influence to the teacher’s union president without caring how it appears to other lawmakers, other lobbyists, and most of all, the public. And they say money can’t buy happiness. “Race to the Top” is a catalyst for education reform discussion, as even the Obama administration recognizes the need for alternative paths to licensure and teacher performance compensation. Governor Pawlenty has said Minnesota will only submit an application for the federal funding if the Legislature passes significant reforms during our final month of session. With House Democrats sending the signal that they are already in the back pocket of Education Minnesota, don’t get your hopes up.