POLITICS and POLICY: US Education Chief Worried About Florida Grant Effort
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said he’s worried about dissension over Florida’s $700 million federal Race to the Top grant during a visit to the state’s capital city.
The Obama administration’s education chief met briefly with Gov. Rick Scott but held longer meetings with state and local education officials and business and union leaders at the Florida Capitol after attending at town hall session with students, faculty and the public at Tallahassee Community College.
Duncan said during the town hall meeting that fractured relationships were hampering implementation of the grant that’s designed to promote innovation in state public school systems. A teacher merit pay plan is a key component of Florida’s proposal.
Florida Education Association president Andy Ford told Duncan at the Capitol meeting that the statewide teachers union has been shut out of the grant planning process since Scott, a Republican, was elected governor.
“If the reforms that you want to put in place are going to succeed and have sustainability then we have to be involved,” Ford said.
Duncan agreed there needs to be collaboration and said teachers and their unions must be at the table.
“To be there to maintain the status quo, no,” Duncan said. “But to have anyone’s voice, teachers particularly, not in the mix I don’t think is helpful.”
He said he has spoken to Florida Education Commissioner Gerard Robinson about the matter and believes he’s committed to finding a solution.
“Hopefully we can work through this stuff,” Duncan said. “It’s not sustainable, it’s not possible if anyone — students, parents, business, anyone — is out of the picture, particularly teachers.”
Robinson did not speak to the issue during the meeting. Later, he said he couldn’t comment on anything Ford said because the FEA has filed a legal challenge to a new law passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature, which also includes a teacher merit pay plan and ends tenure for new hires.
Robinson, though, said the state is working with union members on the local level. He noted the state Department of Education has approved grant plans submitted by 59 of the participating 65 school districts and that each was developed in collaboration with local unions.
Scott shared some thoughts ranging from early childhood education to college during a private meeting that lasted about two minutes, said Duncan spokeswoman Liz Utrup.
State University System Chancellor Frank Brogan said he was worried about President Barack Obama’s statement in his State of the Union address that federal aid should be withheld from colleges that don’t keep net tuition down and provide good value.
Brogan said it would be unfair to treat states such as Florida, which currently charges about $5,000 a year for in-state tuition, the same as those that charge much more. Florida currently ranks about fifth lowest in in-state tuition costs, Brogan said.
Duncan responded that tuition would be just one of several factors considered including the performance of students that get federal Pell grants and student debt levels.
Speakers at the community college said there should be financial assistance for part-time students and those enrolled in non-degree programs that lead to certification for jobs.