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

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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

RESOLUTION APPROVING THE SETTLEMENT AGREEMENT BETWEEN THE UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION AND THE CONNECTICUT STATE DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION.

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.

Waivers intensify injustice of No Child Left Behind (Another must read column by Wendy Lecker)

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My colleague, fellow public education advocate and commentator, Wendy Lecker, had another “must read” column in the Stamford Advocate, Connecticut Post and the other papers that make up the Hearst Connecticut Media Group.

While many readers know about the problems associated with the federal No Child Left Behind Act, many may not fully appreciated why a federal waiver doesn’t solve the problem.  In her column, Lecker explains why the Malloy Administration’s unquestioning commitment to getting a federal waiver is not the right solution.

Wendy writes;

“If education is supposed to be the civil rights issue of this era, why does Connecticut’s new system for rating schools and districts discriminate against our most vulnerable students? Connecticut instituted the new system in order to obtain a waiver from some of the provisions of the No Child Left Behind law (NCLB). NCLB mandated that states judge schools and districts, and impose punishments, based on test scores of the entire school and district and of subgroups of students: different ethnic groups, English language learners, children living in poverty and students with disabilities. One claimed benefit of reporting scores by subgroups is that this revealed which groups of children tended to score poorly on standardized tests.

However, under NCLB, schools serving a more heterogeneous population were more likely to be punished. Not only did entire schools and districts have to pass the testing goal for a year, called Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP), but each subgroup had to pass the goal as well. Thus, a school or district with fewer subgroups had a better chance of making AYP than a diverse one.

Since the ultimate goal of NCLB, that 100 percent of students would be proficient on state tests by 2014, was widely acknowledged as unattainable, more and more schools were failing to make AYP as we approached that deadline. Even homogeneous, affluent districts were bound to fail. Sanctions under NCLB ranged from mandating unregulated tutoring and allowing students to transfer out, to more serious interventions such as firing all staff and/or handing schools over to private operators. None of these sanctions have proven effective at improving schools.”

Read the rest at http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Wendy-Lecker-Waivers-intensify-injustice-of-No-4004364.php#ixzz2BeV8i2CU