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Dear Gov. Dayton: About that ‘second round’ of education grants …

Maybe you know something we don’t, but if there were another round, wouldn’t we have to get in line behind the 10 states that scored higher than Minnesota on round one?

Dear Gov. Dayton;

Just a wee follow-up to your recent appearance before the Association of Metropolitan School Districts, where you announced your plan to appeal to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan for more education stimulus funding during his trip here later this month.

Arne Duncan
REUTERS/Larry Downing
Arne Duncan

This is awkward. On the campaign trail you were so on your game when it came to education we’ve never had to correct you. Indeed, Your Humble Blogger marveled at your ability to name-check classroom teachers and spin school-level success stories. So we’re unsure how you’re going to react to a little inconvenient truthiness, but we’re sure you’d like to head off any embarrassment during your visit with Mr. Duncan.

We’re also a trifle amused that the rest of the news media failed to catch the gaffe you made at that appearance, busy as they were scouring up quotes from Minnesota Republicans praising your bold move as evidence that, DFLer or not, you’re no teachers union stooge.

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Remember the Spy magazine prank involving some lawmakers and Freedonia? We do.

But we digress.

You told AMSD’s members that you planned to ask Mr. Duncan to reconsider Minnesota during a second round of applications for Race to the Top education stimulus grants. Since only two of the competitive education reform awards had been made, you said, “There should be plenty of funds still available.”

You’re right that last spring only two states made the first cut to win the hefty grants, which are the centerpiece of the Obama administration’s $4.3 billion effort to encourage education reform. And we realize you were fresh off your primary election victory and likely shifting gears toward the general, but a second round of RTTT grants was awarded in August, bringing the total number of states in line for the funds to 11.

Of course your predecessor declined to compete in that second round — a costly decision you might have been trying to draw attention to with your remarks to Friday’s AMSD confab. But Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s choice not to prepare a second application was probably realistic given that he, the state’s largest teachers union, Education Minnesota, and a nervous election-year Legislature were locked in a three-way standoff that precluded passage of any of the bills that would have made Minnesota eligible for RTTT.

You don’t have such problems yet. The union seems optimistic about you, in part because you have said loud and clear that K-12 needs more funding. “More money is reform,” you said last week.

And GOP lawmakers seem reasonably sure you, they and a swath of the DFL share common ground on many of the education reforms coming before the legislature again this year. The mystery provenance of said funding notwithstanding, it would seem your prospects are good.

Gov. Mark Dayton
MinnPost/Bill Kelley
Gov. Mark Dayton

Unfortunately, we’ve asked some of those who worked closely on Minnesota’s first application and we’ve scoured the U.S. Department of Education’s RTTT materials and we can’t find any information suggesting Duncan has any money to hand out, nor is another round of grant applications being solicited.

(Indeed, most of the DOE’s recent RTTT activity seems to be aimed at insisting that recipient states stick to the plans that won them the money.)

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When he announced the second set of winners last summer, Duncan said he’d be game for a third, much more modestly funded go-round, but neither he nor Obama have asked Congress for more cash. And with your homey Rep. John Kline now in charge of the House Education & Labor Committee, the chances of that happening are pretty darn slim.

OK — and if there were a round three, wouldn’t we have to get in line behind the 10 states that scored higher than Minnesota on round one? And how would you win over Duncan’s application scorers, who were troubled not just by Education Minnesota’s opposition, but by the state’s lack of mechanisms for alternative teacher licensure, teacher tenure reform and a host of other controversial propositions? 

You’re not exactly a party guy, so our first bet isn’t that your AMSD statement was meant to leave the impression Pawlenty blew it, but with the former governor’s sights set on Washington, one never knows.

In all fairness, you did say you had already spoken briefly to Secretary Duncan, so perhaps you have a game plan we know nothing about. Less than two weeks into the job, it wouldn’t be the first time you pulled a completely unforeseeable education sector surprise out of your kit bag. Our fingers are crossed.

Forgive us if we’ve overstepped. As always, we’re just anxious to hear more about your plans for funding all of those fabulous programs we heard you discuss on the campaign trail.


The Learning Curve crew