The Florida Education Association was skeptical of the Obama-Duncan Race to the Top (RttT) initiative, but eventually became part of the team which then governor Charlie Crist put together to apply for the grant. As it turns out RttT has turned out to be as what republican presidential candidate Rick Perry calls an “unacceptable intrusion on states’ control over education.”
Florida’s republican leaders liked it. Jeb Bush supported the measure. In a statement released through his foundation he said, “my hope is that states are bold and provocative in their proposals for Race to the Top Funds. This unprecedented federal investment in education reform should be used to introduce transparent and relevant world-class standards, dramatically improve teacher quality and employ technology to radically transform the delivery of education.”
Republican members of of the Florida legislature did, too. Rep. Will Weatherford of Wesley Chapel , next year’s house speaker, attacked the FEA’s motives for its opposition to the measure in a December 2009 op-ed piece in the Gainesville Sun.
Last week, the President of the Florida Education Association (FEA) issued a public letter to local education associations across the state, urging them to not support the Florida Department of Education’s efforts to participate in the federal Race to the Top program and continue reforming Florida’s schools by rewarding excellent classroom teachers.
Disappointing? Yes. Surprising? No.
After all, the FEA has long been in the business of resisting innovative education reforms in favor of protecting the status quo. Instead of supporting a program that will give Florida’s teachers, their members, real financial rewards for excellence in the classroom, the FEA has chosen to play politics and fight to sustain a failing system that rewards teachers only for longevity, not for performance and results.
As Florida looks at a bleak economic forecast that could force reductions to the education budget, the FEA is urging local union groups to sabotage the state’s efforts to bring in a potential additional $700 million in funding for our teachers and our schools. Frankly, it’s simply irresponsible for the FEA to jeopardize Florida’s ability to participate in the continued efforts to reform education and improve teacher quality and instruction in low performing schools
Weatherford misled voters. The highlighted portions show he is clearly telling voters that RttT funding will go toward “rewarding excellent classroom teachers” and “give Florida’s teachers, their members, real financial rewards for excellence.”
It did nothing of the sort.
In this video of the Q & A session between Senator Paul Dockery and SB736’s sponsor, Senator Steve Wise, it was revealed that RttT funds would only be funding “infrastructure” for establishing new tests. Niether did the legislature provide funding for districts who would be implementing the bill’s new teacher evaluation system – let alone provide “real financial rewards” for teachers. Rick Scott and the republican dominated legislature cut funding by 8 percent.
Its fair to say that Weatherford was categorical wrong about where the $700 RttT funds would be going. Did he already know it? His opinion nonetheless gave the impression that the intent was something far different from what has materialized. Weatherford was successful in demonizing the state’s teachers.
Perhaps Bush’s “employ technology to radically transform the delivery of education,” is more indicative of Florida republican’s true plans. Arne Duncan’s cash reward will end up going to corporate high-tech interests who generously donate to the campaign coffers of the state’s republicans.