Minnesota didn't win a share of $4.35 billion in federal education money this month because the state lacks a plan to develop quality educators and the state's application lacked support from the statewide teachers' union as well as many school district unions, state officials learned Monday.
Minnesota was informed this month that it was not a finalist in the Race to the Top competition for stimulus funds set aside by the Obama administration to encourage school innovation.
On Monday, when the U.S. Department of Education revealed the two winners -- Delaware and Tennessee -- it also revealed why other states' applications fell short.
Minnesota's scorecard shows that the state lost big points in developing "great teachers and leaders" -- which means finding ways to get the best teachers in classrooms where they're most needed -- and overall "state success factors," such as statewide support for the application and progress in closing achievement gaps.
The reaction of Bill Walsh, the federal liaison for the Minnesota Department of Education, echoed complaints this month from Gov. Tim Pawlenty's office that the statewide teachers union, Education Minnesota, had been "an anchor" dragging down the state in the competition.
"The power of the teachers union in the state and their ability to stop reform over the years has led us to this point," Walsh said.
Reviewers said the state's bid for the funding often lacked a coherent vision, and questioned whether Minnesota had the political will to dramatically improve schools.
Minnesota finished in 20th place out of 41 applicants and earned 375 out of 500 points, about 70 points behind second-place Tennessee.
The state could have received up to $250 million in federal money.
Only 12 percent of the state's teachers unions had signed on to the state's application, which one reviewer said could "reflect the practical and political challenges the state will face implementing its plan."
Education Minnesota President Tom Dooher was unavailable for an interview Monday, but released a statement calling it "unfortunate" that the state's application "missed the mark by such a wide margin."
Since getting the news that Minnesota would not receive any of the federal funds, Education Minnesota has blamed the state for the application's failure, saying it should have listened to the teachers union and taken its input while creating the application. State officials say that the union's leaders were invited to participate in the application process.
State lacks Obama approach
Education advocates had been optimistic that Minnesota would get a Race to the Top windfall because of the state's history for implementing change in education.
The state's application called for expanding Minnesota's teacher merit-pay program, Q Comp, and basing teacher evaluations more squarely on student test scores, items the Obama administration supports but unions consider troublesome.
But Minnesota lost points because it doesn't permit "alternative teacher certification," which would give mid-career professionals and other nonteachers a way into the profession without a standard teaching degree.
It's an approach that has been encouraged by Education Secretary Arne Duncan and President Obama and promoted by groups such as Teach for America to get quality educators in high-needs areas.
However, Education Minnesota asserts it would lower standards for teachers statewide. A bill to allow for alternative certification is moving through the Legislature this session, but similar bills in recent years have failed.
"As a state, we have to decide if we're going to design education policy to take care of the adults or take care of the kids," said Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington. "Clearly, the union has sided with the adults."
The state has a chance to apply for a second round of Race to the Top funding this summer, but education officials haven't decided if they will pursue that path, Walsh said.
More than $3 billion remains in the fund, and Duncan said he expects a larger number of winning states in the second round, possibly 10 to 15.
But Walsh said another Minnesota application may not be worth submitting unless it contains changes in areas like alternative teacher certification. "If we hand in the same application, we're going to have the same result," he said.
Wire reports contributed to this story. Emily Johns • 612-673-7460