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Topinka blasts governor over ISATdelays

Topinka blasts governor over ISATdelays

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SPRINGFIELD - Republican gubernatorial candidate Judy Baar Topinka slammed Gov. Rod Blagojevich Tuesday, saying "cronyism" led to problems with the distribution of student achievement tests.

Topinka, the state treasurer, echoed an earlier call by Republican lawmakers for the governor to cancel the troubled $44 million contract between the state and Harcourt Assessment Inc.

"It was a debacle and there must be a full public accounting," Topinka said at a press conference at a Springfield hotel.

Harcourt has been blamed for a statewide bungling of the distribution of the Illinois Standards Achievement Tests.

The Texas-based company was awarded the contract in 2004 after hiring lobbyist John Wyma, a former top Blagojevich aide.

Topinka said the company's contract is an example of cronyism and corruption.

"The vendor failed us, failed our children," said Topinka.

The contract called for Harcourt to deliver ISAT materials to school districts beginning Feb. 28 but nearly every school in the state reported some problem with the tests, ranging from delivery problems to faulty test booklets.

The tests are administered each year to students in grades three through eight as a way to determine whether schools are meeting federal school requirements.

Most schools were given the opportunity to delay testing until after the problems were ironed out.

In the interim, state school Superintendent Randy Dunn has threatened to cancel the contract, but has delayed making a final decision while testing is under way.

"We're still monitoring it very closely," said Illinois State Board of Education spokeswoman Meta Minton. "It is in serious jeopardy at this point."

Topinka said Dunn and the board shouldn't delay. And, she said, the public deserves a further explanation of how Harcourt came to win the contract.

She also said the problems could have been avoided if Blagojevich would allow the state Board of Education to act more independently.

If elected, she said she would try to reverse a Blagojevich-led initiative that put more power to oversee the board in the governor's hands.

That drew criticism from the governor's office.

"We cannot understand why anyone in their right mind would want to return to the system that we inherited," said Blagojevich spokeswoman Rebecca Rausch.

Topinka was joined at the press conference by a number of state lawmakers, including state Rep. Roger Eddy, R-Hutsonville who also is a school superintendent.

"I think this should be the final straw," said Eddy, pointing to the effect of the problems on young children.

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