Teacher Leaders Call for Clarity on Federal Initiatives

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The administration must clarify the aims of new education initiatives created through federal stimulus funds, or risk having these efforts twisted to suit the narrow agendas of those opposed to reform that is based on cooperation with teachers and teacher unions, AFT president Randi Weingarten and NEA president Dennis Van Roekel warned on April 9.

In a joint letter to Education Secretary Arne Duncan, the two national union leaders said that the Race to the Top (RTTT) competition and School Improvement Grants (SIG) "are being used to promote actions that do not align with the intent of these programs," and called on the administration "to reiterate [its] desire for collaboration and cooperation with educators on reform issues and to oppose the use of these programs to bypass locally negotiated labor-management agreements."

The letter came only hours after the Florida House of Representatives approved a bill—sold by proponents as a way of preserving the state's chance to win RTTT funds—that would make test scores the major consideration in teacher pay and security. Gov. Charlie Crist has yet to say whether he will sign or veto the bill, which has touched off a firestorm of protests in communities across the state.

The spin and misinformation is not limited to Florida, the teacher union presidents stressed.

"As you know, a number of school districts—including Central Falls, R.I.; Savannah, Ga.; and Charlotte-Mecklenburg, N.C.—have decided to lay off hundreds of school employees. These layoffs may well be related to budget shortfalls, but they have been justified as a requirement of the SIG program or as necessary to earn points for the RTTT program," the union presidents said.

"It is simply untrue that a state must pass legislation containing such onerous provisions in order to receive RTTT funds," they pointed out, highlighting key characteristics that Delaware and Tennessee, the only two winners selected thus far, share in common: union collaboration, respect for existing labor-management agreements, and teacher evaluation that is free of any arbitrary requirement that they be based primarily on student test scores.

The two national union presidents also urged Duncan to clarify that nothing in RTTT, SIG or federal law encourages state and local authorities to gut existing contracts or mandates that student test scores constitute some arbitrary percentage of an educator's evaluation. Both leaders also called on Duncan "to clarify that nothing in RTTT, SIG or federal law requires the draconian layoffs that are taking place."

"On the contrary, the stimulus law that created RTTT and SIG was intended to preserve and create jobs, particularly in the essential enterprise of educating our young people. These programs also intended to provide a variety of intervention models and options that must be pursued in a collaborative manner with stakeholders in each district." [Mike Rose]

April 11, 2010