Minnesota State Capitol
by Steve Timmer
Apr 12, 2023, 8:00 PM

Choosers and choosees

Turning back to the beginning of the current century, recall when George W. Bush was casting about for a candidate for vice president to run with him. He turned to confidant Richard B. Cheney, and said, Find me the right person.

So, Richard B. Cheney scoured the country, hunting high and low and far and wide, and he came back to the Junior Bush and said, I’m pleased to report that I found the perfect person to run with you. C’est moi. Remember how odd you all thought that was?

The next eight years passed as a febrile dream.

– o O o –

The reason we thought it was odd is because we believe that the chooser should not be the choosee. It seems unfair and not calculated to lead to the best decision. We go to some length in many endeavors to be sure this doesn’t happen.

In government, when a party with authority grants benefits to itself or its associates, we have a special word for it: graft.

Merging chooser and choosee is a near-certainty under the Read Act, drafts of which are part of omnibus education bills; the House bill is HF2497, and the Read Act is in Article 3 of the bill.

Readers here know I’ve written about the Read Act many times, most recently here. The current draft of the bill would require the selection of up to five vendors of phonics curricula and up to three vendors of professional development programs on phonics for the existing teacher corps. HF2497 pencils in $40 million for the reimbursement of districts for the purchase of approved curricula, and $27 million for reimbursement for professional development expenditures, a gigantic sum.

Under the bill, an institute at the University of Minnesota, the Center for Applied Research and Educational Improvement, or CAREI, is appointed to be a “partner” with the Minnesota Department of Education, for which CAREI will be paid $4.2 million.

Parenthetically, and before describing the partnership, note that legislature is telling the administration who, by name, to hire for a job. Picking vendors and consultants is ordinarily the administration’s job, and for good reasons. Imagine a legislature telling a governor who to hire as chief of staff. Directing a department who to hire is perhaps different in degree, but it isn’t different in essential kind.

What is CAREI supposed to do for its $4.2 million? It will assist the Department of Education in selecting and approving vendors of curricula and professional development. CAREI – not coincidentally – is a seller of phonics curricula and professional development programs. Here’s the problem:

The bill specifically provides that CAREI is under no disability to be one of the vendors chosen. It also exempts the choice of CAREI from the notice and competitive bidding requirements of Minnesota law.

CAREI is Minnesota’s Dick Cheney.

In hearing on the Read Act, the dean of the College of Education and Human Development, where CAREI is housed, provided written – and maybe in person, too, but I’m not sure – testimony in favor of the Read Act bill. Another individual at CAREI, Wendy Stuttgen, testified at Senate hearings (and maybe in the House, too; I didn’t watch them all) on behalf of the Read Act. You can see a video of a portion of her Senate testimony here. Ms. Stuttgen holds herself out as a “Certified LETRS® Professional.” Certified by whom? Well, LETRS®, naturally.

I think this is an obvious and irreconcilable conflict of interest. It also presents a serious violation of the separation of powers.

At a very minimum, the Read Act should be pulled out of the omnibus bill and debated on the floor of the chambers in the House and the Senate, on its own, and in the sunshine, so we can get an accurate nose count of who thinks this is a good idea.

The Center for Applied Research and Educational Improvement also needs to decide whether it is fish or fowl, a chooser or a choosee.

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