California district’s bid for Race to the Top funds fails after teachers’ union withholds its support
The Los Angeles Times reports that efforts by the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) to secure a $40 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education (ED) has failed, because the L.A. teachers’ union has declined to sign the application, a condition for the competition imposed by ED. LAUSD officials said the Race to the Top (RTTT) grant could have provided critical services as well as additional jobs.
LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy could submit an application anyway, but said federal rules for the money required a written commitment to the terms of the grant by the local teachers union. According to Warren Fletcher, president of United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA), the main sticking point was financial. Fletcher noted that similar grants to states have committed officials to efforts that cost more than the grants provided.
Fletcher said the district’s $43.3-million proposal seemed headed in the same direction. The end result, he said, could have been future cutbacks in classroom teachers and services to students. “There was greater risk than likely reward,” he said.
Deasy has countered that, in fact, the money would have supported efforts already underway. He said private donations would have made up for any costs beyond the grant award. LAUSD proposed personalized learning plans aided by digital tablets, summer school, learning projects linked to careers, anti-dropout counseling, and other services.
The RTTT grant program was extended from states to individual school districts for the first time this year. ED established a $400-million pool of funding. About 15 to 25 awards, in the range of $5 million to $40 million, will be distributed as four-year grants. California failed to win earlier state competitions in part because many unions declined to support the effort.
All along, union officials in California have objected to some of the federal conditions, in particular that students’ test scores or other measures of academic achievement be a “significant factor” in teacher evaluations by 2014. The L.A. union has vociferously asserted that state standardized test scores are an inaccurate measure of teacher performance, but Fletcher said that issue was not the fatal flaw.
Fletcher noted that the district and union already are negotiating over terms of a teacher evaluation that, under state law, must incorporate test scores. The negotiations are taking place with a mediator under a court order. Deasy said he was willing to agree in writing that the grant application would not be used as leverage in these negotiations.
Source: Los Angeles Times, 10/29/12, By Howard Blume
[Editor's Note: In August 2012, Legal Clips summarized an ED press release, which announced the availability of the application for the 2012 Race to the Top-District competition, which would provide nearly $400 million to support school districts in implementing local reforms that will personalize learning, close achievement gaps, and take full advantage of 21st century tools that prepare each student for college and their careers. The program sets a high bar to fund those districts that have a track record of success, clear vision for reform, and innovative plans to transform the learning environment and accelerate student achievement.]