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Published in Print: May 26, 2004, as Minn. Senate Democrats Dump Yecke as Education Chief

Minn. Senate Democrats Dump Yecke as Education Chief

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Cheri Pierson Yecke has lost her job as Minnesota’s education commissioner.

In a 35-31 vote along party lines, the Democratic-controlled state Senate rejected Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s choice for education chief at 3:40 a.m. on May 16. Deputy Commissioner of Education Chas Anderson immediately became the acting commissioner.

In a telephone interview two days after the vote, Ms. Yecke still sounded stunned by the decision, as did members of her former staff who were fielding calls at the state education department last week.

"We are so shocked," Ms. Yecke said. "We had a deal with three Democrats who pledged to vote for me. We had a pledge from the [Senate Democratic leader, Dean Elton Johnson] not to take this to the floor unless they had the votes to confirm."

Sen. Johnson’s office did not return phone calls seeking comment.

Gov. Pawlenty lashed out at Senate Democrats in a statement issued the day of the vote for "doing a great disservice to our state."

"By rejecting Commissioner Yecke on a party-line vote," he said, "they have rejected innovation and accountability for our education system."

Polarizing Figure

The state constitution places no deadlines on the Senate for confirming executive appointments, so Ms. Yecke had 15 months on the job before being fired—time enough to became a polarizing figure.

Starting at a time when the state was struggling with a $4.5 billion budget deficit, she worked to bring the state into compliance with the federal No Child Left Behind law and ushered in a set of new educational standards. She also released a controversial book about the failings of U.S. middle schools.

Foes cast Ms. Yecke as an archconservative bent on carrying out the will of the Bush administration, for which she previously worked, while supporters said she was easily the most qualified person to ever fill the state’s top education post. ("Minn. Education Commissioner Fighting for Confirmation," April 7, 2004.)

From her home in Blaine, Minn., last week, Ms. Yecke hinted that she doesn’t plan to be out of work long. Immediately before being tapped for state education chief by Gov. Pawlenty, the 49-year-old was the U.S. Department of Education’s director of teacher quality and public school choice, where she focused on the impact of the No Child Left Behind law.

"I received a very nice call from [U.S. Secretary of Education Rod] Paige and I’ve had several think tanks contact me already, so I’m reviewing my options," she said.

Officials in the governor’s office said last week that he had no immediate plans for replacing Ms. Yecke with another appointee.

Vol. 23, Issue 38, Page 20

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