By Len Feldman
CTA representatives from every California legislative district have been contacting their state lawmakers to deliver a simple message: Legislators should carefully consider any revisions to state education law related to the Race to the Top (RTTT) federal grant program. Educators fear that a headlong race to change could become a rush to failure. The flurry of state legislative activity follows Congress’s passage of the federal stimulus package — the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) — which funds the RTTT competitive grant program for public schools. States can apply for portions of the overall $4.35 billion in grant money only if their state education laws conform to federally mandated regulations.
While the federal government has not yet adopted those implementing regulations, lawmakers in many states, including California, are rushing to propose changes to their state laws in hopes of qualifying for the federal money. In some cases, changes have been driven by what state education officials believe are erroneous interpretations of state law by federal officials.
CTA leaders have met with Obama administration officials, including Education Secretary Arne Duncan, to help provide a clearer understanding of California’s stringent education and accountability requirements, widely recognized as being among the toughest in the nation. The California Legislature has approved and the governor has signed one measure to delete a sentence in the Education Code perceived by federal officials to be a barrier to California’s being able to apply (see story, "SB 19 signed into law by governor").
CTA and its Education Coalition partners have been urging legislators not to hastily approve any omnibus measures, including one drafted by state Sen. Gloria Romero (D-Los Angeles), a candidate for state superintendent of public instruction. Sen. Romero’s bill, a special session bill called SBx5 1, would make wide-ranging changes to teacher evaluation and student achievement measurements and remove the caps on the number of charter schools in the state.
Why SBx5 1 is flawed
The measure would:
- Lock into state law unnecessary changes Sen. Romero claims are needed to implement Race to the Top, even before the federal regulations governing the program have been adopted.
- Repeat the mistakes of the fatally flawed No Child Left Behind Act, including the overreliance on test scores as the only measure of student achievement.
- Modify regulations governing the entire School Improvement Grant (SIG) Program in hopes of helping California get one-time RTTT funds, but it would also cause schools to lose SIG money if they do not comply with the new state regulations.
- Force irresponsible and punitive changes in teacher and administrator evaluations.
- Allow unfettered increases in underregulated charter schools that are not responsible to the community.
- Substitute narrow compliance in place of innovation and local flexibility vital to schools’ success.
- Increase costs and mandates at a time when schools are staggering under $17 billion in cuts and 20,000 educator layoffs.
- CTA members can help win this fight by contacting their state legislators and urging them to move deliberately on any RTTT-related changes. See www.cta.org/issues/current/Race+to+Top+Landing.htm for more information and links to your lawmakers.