Race to the Bottom: A story about the strings attached to federal funding;

On any given day, Governor Malloy, his Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor and other “education reformers” including superintendents in Bridgeport, Hartford and elsewhere are racing around – often in circles – in pursuit of some of the money that is being handed out by the United States Department of Education’s “Race to the Top” Program.

Applications and waivers are the terms of the day as more and more states and cities promise to implement reforms in return for more federal funding.

In the rush, some elected and appointed officials forget that while the preamble of a bill or program may sound great, you’d better read the fine print before you sign on the dotted line.

That message came through loud and clear earlier this month when the Malloy Administration quietly submitted Senate Resolution No. 14.  With no press release or even an explanation, the language of the bill reads;

January Session, 2013 of the Connecticut General Assembly

Senate Resolution No.14


Resolved by the Senate:

That the provisions of the settlement agreement dated January 30, 2013, between the United States of America, acting through the United States Department of Justice and on behalf of the United States Department of Education, and the State of Connecticut, acting through the office of the Attorney General and on behalf of the Connecticut State Department of Education, requiring an expenditure from the General Fund budget in excess of two million five hundred thousand dollars and submitted by the Attorney General to this Assembly for approval in accordance with section 3-125a of the general statutes, are approved

Not the easiest piece of legislation to decipher, but in essence is says that on January 30, 2013, an agreement was signed between the federal government and the state of Connecticut dealing with some problem between the United States Department of Education and the Connecticut State Department of Education, and to resolve that problem, Connecticut will be issuing a check to the federal government for an amount in excess of $2.5 million.

So what is the story?

It turns out that in 2002, 2003 and 2004, the Connecticut State Department of Education applied for and was granted funds from the United States Department of Education’s National Initiative to Ensure Child Eligibility for Title I, Part C, Migrant Education Program.

The state spent those funds on various education programs that it believed met the rules and regulations of the program.

However, the federal government charged that the Connecticut State Department of Education “submitted or caused to be submitted false claims for payment or approval by misrepresenting the number of children in Connecticut who qualified for federal MEP funding.”

It is not that the federal government was saying the Connecticut’s State Department of Education stole the funds or spent them on non-education expenses; the problem appears to be the programs being funded may have helped children other than just the children of migrant workers.

In any case, after nearly a decade of investigations and negotiations, costing untold amounts of money, the federal government and the State of Connecticut recently signed an agreement that the State of Connecticut will pay back a portion of the funds….about $4.5 million.

However, as the agreement makes clear, “This Agreement is neither an admission of liability by the State, nor a concession by the United States that its claims are not well-founded.”

Bottom line – Connecticut agrees to pay back the funds but everyone agrees that the agreement does not imply that we were guilty of anything.

So in the coming years, Connecticut taxpayers will pay the United States government the sum of $4,500,000 with  non-Federal funds .  It actually starts with an initial payment of $1,500.000 within forty-five calendar days after the approval of the agreement by the Connecticut General Assembly, with annual payments due until the full amount has been paid).

In addition, the state will pay interest on the unpaid portion of the stipulated amount.

And, if for some reason the General Assembly rejects the agreement, bad things will happen that will undoubtedly cost the state even more.

So all in favor, say yes…

Case closed.

Connecticut asked for the money, it spent the money, it probably even thought it was spending the money in the right way, but the federal government said Connecticut failed to spend the money correctly and we now have to pay it back, with interest.

Of course, this migrant education program was minor compared to the amount of funds and the level of federal rules and restrictions associated with the federal government’s massive No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top funding.

And yet just the other day, Governor Malloy, Commissioner Pryor and the Connecticut State Board of Education were talking about changes and flexibility associated with Connecticut’s absurd teacher evaluation system, but there was virtually no mention that the federal waiver Malloy, Pryor and the state requested and received puts severe limitations on just how much “flexibility” Connecticut has in some of these areas.

We took the money but the rules we have to spend it under will actually do severe harm to many of our public schools.

Remember, when the “education reformers” tell us not to worry about the restrictive rules concerning No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top, the federal government will let us do whatever we want as long as we adopt some education reforms, remind them about this new Senate Resolution 14 that will cost us $4.5 million, plus interest.

It is a question every legislator should be asked.

And while you’re doing that, ask them why the Malloy administration is providing so little information about this settlement.

  • cindy

    When you enter into a contract with the devil, the devil is always in the details!

    reform is not good for children, parents, or teachers; proven time and
    time again to be invalid, unreliable, unhealthy, expensive, wasteful,
    misguided, misdirected….so it makes you wonder – for whom are we doing

  • Sleepless in Bridgeport

    That is exactly why Vallas says he is “valuable” to the good citizens of Bridgeport. He does not give a crap about rules, regulations, or mandates (because when the Sheriff gets to town he will be long gone) and he has so dismantled the administration of the Bridgeport Schools only dust remains. (All his key people are not even employees, and every single one of the incumbents has been forced out. They may not have been the greatest to begin with, but they tried. Who says his current clowns are any better and they are basicly Temps anyway)

  • Linda174

    Well then shouldn’t we, the citizens and the lawyer elected and paid to protect us (Jepsen), turn the tables?

    The Gates USDOE is foisting unproven, non-researched based methods (federal standards written by friends of Bill, test scores as a measurement of a teacher’s worth, testing consortium designs not yet complete, just to name a few) down our throats or we don’t get our waiver. Seems like federal blackmail to me and when exactly can we apply for a waiver to our waiver?

    So each town, district and city should keep a tally of the increased costs (and just wait for the common bore and the SBAC computerized testing fiasco to begin) that are a direct result of this race to nowhere.

    When there is an increase in spending, it is not going towards reducing class size or direct services for children. The money is for more administrative positions, coaches, common core indoctrination, test prep, testing, software, hardware, etc…

    Maybe years from now we can make another agreement where the federal government owes all the states millions once this social experiment flops.

    • jschmidt2

      The unfunded mandate- the only thing the DOE has given us and of course we paid for it.

  • jschmidt2

    We’d could be better off getting rid of the Federal Dept of Ed and just splitting up all the money they give out and their overhead to the states by child population. All they do is make up special programs rules that complicate spending, force the states to do more paperwork, that the bureaucrats in DC than have to review. So how much money actuallyt gets spent for education after you extract all the administrative costs.

    • Linda174

      Very little and this is one topic that has united both sides. Abolish the USDOE…it merely serves as a playground for the experiments of Bill Gates. Arne, Barack’s basketball buddy, is just the puppet. Obama and Bush have united us here. Cheers!

      • jschmidt2

        Oh my Linda- we agree- there is hope for the world.
        Castles- don’t hold your breath. This administration loves bureaucracy so the DOE will be around for a long time. Wish Ben Franklin was around to ask if he thought education was a states responsibility or a Fed one.

    • Castles Burning

      Sounds like a plan and I never thought that I would think that we did not need a Federal Dept of Education (I forget which president proposed doing away with one in the not too distant past) and now I can wish for it, but is it too late? Have the steps towards privitization already been “nationalized” and is that not what is driving so much federal policy?

  • Castles Burning

    I like the opening image as it seems to truly represent what those “in charge of” education in our state are indeed spending their time on. Getting money–no matter what costs or effects or consequences. Thank God we lost the race to the top. Wonderful reporting, but more than a little scary about what can be “said” about funds gotten since then. If education as it is now being managed in this state were not about pursuing money and giving it to those most “entitled” in the eyes of those pursuing it, then they might (quixiotic, I know) have time to investigate what enables true learning–the primary question for true educators.