Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Ill Wind Out of DC

In Washington, D.C. at the end of last week there were two shameful deeds that happened to educators. The first is the termination of 241 teachers by the Washington, D.C. School District due to low performance as measured by their students' test scores. This number seems to fluctuate in the press ranging from 226 to 250. In any case that's about 6% of the district's 4,300 teachers. An additional 17% of the teaching staff are on notice for possible termination next year.

The district is heavy into the "let's judge teachers by student test scores" and call it "innovative reform" mode. The idea was rolled into a new teacher evaluation system and then rolled out without a pilot or much training for teachers. Anyone familiar with the inner-workings of the education system around the country would say that's typical modus operandi for far too many districts. The difference is that ruthless administrators like Michelle Rhee of D.C. now feel empowered to terminate en masse.

Meanwhile, the US Senate was giving educators another kick. They removed federal funding for education jobs from the Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Act. The House had put funding in the bill to stop massive educator layoffs that are happening around the country. This funding would have included $28 million for Delaware to help more than 400 educators here who received RIF notice or termination of temporary contract this year. However, many Senators did not support the jobs funding, including Senator Tom Carper. Senator Carper did not like the provision that paid for the educator jobs by reducing money for Race To The Top, and the Teacher Incentive Fund. So, the reform programs can roll along with fewer educators to implement them.

Speaking of fewer educators, if the Michelle Rhees of the country get their way and we continue to terminate experienced teachers in large numbers, guess where we will get their replacements? Most probably out of one of the accelerated certification programs. These programs allow "the best and the brightest" graduates to become teachers with just a few weeks of training. These bright lads and lasses will treat your school like a Peace Corp assignment for a couple of years of resume building on their way to the corporate or academic world.

No data supports the idea that "teacher out of a box" produces results, even using the myopic standard of test scores. That does not seem to impede the "reformers" from telling their story.

Let's hope that the ill wind out of DC has shifted for the better this week. The American Federation of Teachers (not the NEA) who represents the teachers in DC are fighting the above mentioned terminations. Proponents of the federal education jobs money are searching for another bill upon which to attach the provision as an amendment.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

$28 Million for Delaware Education Jobs???

It's hard to believe that it's been two weeks since the end of session and two weeks since I've posted on this blog.

Considering we are still in the middle of a deep economic recession Delaware's Joint Finance Committee did a good job of distributing the resources with which they had to work. A number of last year's cuts were either restored or modified.

Delaware, like 48 other states had a budget deficit when the session began. Only natural resource rich Montana and North Dakota seem immune to the recession. Typically in these times revenues fall at the same time people lose jobs and need public services such as unemployment insurance and Medicaid. Additionally, parents who had been able to afford private schools for their children find themselves enrolling their children in the public system.

Delaware had one advantage that other states did not have when it came time to mark up the budget. We have an unique escheat law that allows us to take possession of abandoned property including that of corporations. In short, this stream of revenue ate up about half of our deficit and allowed for some budget relief.

Still, we started this process with more than 400 educators having received either Reduction In Force notifications or the elimination of their temporary contracts. We do not know how many of our colleagues will start work in the autumn. Some districts will receive funding for additional teaching units (remember those private school kids returning to the public schools). Some districts will benefit from the restoration of $21 million of a proposed $24 million cut to public school transportation.

However, these things are hard to calculate, and DSEA does not want to take any chances. That is why DSEA has joined the campaign of the National Education Association to attain federal funding to preserve education jobs. Congress is considering a proposal to put $10 billion into the Emergency Supplemental Appropriations bill for that very purpose. The proposal would provide Delaware with $28 million to save education jobs. The House has approved this plan and it is now before the Senate.

In the Senate, Tom Carper and 12 other fiscally conservative Democrats are reluctant to support the idea. The House offset the eduction jobs money by taking it from the Teacher Incentive Fund, the charter schools program, and the Race To The Top grants. Carper and his colleagues objected.

Other offsets are now under consideration, but regardless of that we need the funding. So called education reform programs are meaningless if educator layoffs result in larger classes and fewer teachers and paras to give students the attention they need.

It is interesting that "fiscal hawks" seem most concerned about the deficit when the spending is on needs of common people: education jobs, Medicaid, and unemployment insurance.

However, the fiscal hawks do not seem to object to spending such as the recent $35 billion in tax breaks to the oil industry, or the fact that we have spent more than $1 Trillion in the Middle East wars, and $1 Trillion on the Bush tax cuts (set to expire next year if Congress has the courage to let them sunset).

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Snapshot of the Session

The 145th Delaware General Assembly has adjourned. The budget, grant-in-aid, and bond bills all passed without amendment or surprises last night. Here’s a quick list of highlights from the educator perspective:
Restoration of 5 furlough days
Bailout of Health Fund Deficit
Short Term Disability elimination period lowers from 60 days to 30 days
$21 million of $24 million cut (Gov’s budget) to public school transportation restored
Step increases for eligible e
NBC & Clusters continue to be paid for those who have them…moratorium on new continues another year
Restoration of overtime pay to hours paid vs hours worked
90 new teaching units funded
$102 million in school construction
School Resource Officer program saved
State’s obligation to new full-day Kindergarten programs (Christina) honored

Thwarted effort to tier health and pension benefits
Killed bill to eliminate Double State Share for new hires
Killed bill to require parental permission for all human sexuality, violence, alcohol and drug content in instruction

In the coming days as you hear our friends in the Delaware media sound off about the big spending state legislature, keep several things in mind. First, the state is a service industry so most of their expense and spending will be on people, the public servants including educators who deliver those services and of course the citizens who receive those services. Every time a fiscal hawk talks about massive cuts to state spending they are talking about taking something away from you and your neighbors. Second, there has not been much actual growth in the state budget. The figure of 6% growth includes replacing the expired stimulus money in the budget. That accounts for 3% of the spending increase by itself. Moreover, states face a double dilemma in times of economic recession; at the same time revenues fall, demand for services goes up as bad economic times force people onto unemployment insurance, Medicaid, and other public services. Third, realize that states do society's tough and expensive jobs: Education, health care, and corrections are three of the most expensive services offered by state government and all have inflationary costs every year.

This blog will go into more details of the session later, after this blogger catches up on sleep.