This statement was prepared for a gathering of Delaware State Education Association members at a meeting to further discuss the group’s role in ongoing talks over the Federal Race to the Top Funds awarded to Delaware several months back. I was unable to make this statement, as there was no general time for statements. So, I’m sharing my prepared comments here, as scribed twice on Dover Downs stationery.
Where was the skepticism?
Being a rabid political observer and participant for the past decade, I’ve learned to take with a great deal of skepticism any federal program or bill whose title sounds too good to be true. The Clean Air Act. The Clear Skies Act. The PATRIOT Act. These are bills with innocuous sounding names that reveal their true intent within the fine print.
Now, we have a new, $4+ billion-dollar program administered by US Department of Education and funded under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act–and no doubt funded in part with help from our friends in the Far East. The program, Race to the Top, is an amorphous ball of The Unknown that originally saw wide support from many in the educational community as a means to infuse much-needed cash into an ever-cash-strapped system.
However, in initially assisting Delaware DoE, has DSEA unwittingly helped open a Pandora’s box? Meaning, have we, as educators, ceded local control and authority over our classrooms in exchange for more Federal regulation and some temporary cash?
In effect, we’re accepting the long-term loss of our educational autonomy for a quick infusion of funds for which we don’t have a full view of how they will be spent. Does this roughly $120 million fund an entirely new arm of Delaware DoE–under the watchful eye of Federal DoE, of course? Does this money fund more classroom teachers to help bring down class sizes? Do we see more para-educators in our rooms? Better yet, do we have better-paid paras and other educational-support professionals(ESP) in our schools, many of whom make so little they qualify for public assistance?
Why were these pertinent, crucial, and specific details not hammered out by DE DoE and provided to all stakeholders in a concise and transparent manner before we signed on to this behemoth?
OK, so we’ve got this money. We don’t know how it’s going to be spent, but we’ve got it. Is anyone discussing sustainability? These funds will be wiped out after four years. The potential Trojan horse of regulations with the cash doesn’t go away. What happens to class sizes after four years? What happens to that potential increase in valuable support staff after four years? Do we wait and hope for another funding bill from the Feds in this caustic legislative environment? Doe we entrust our state with the ability to balance its budget with enough of a buffer to make up for this eventual loss in funds? These questions serve as mere rhetoric, but as a classroom teacher, I don’t deal in the rhetorical with my fifth graders unless I’m teaching a lesson on argument and logic.
To conclude, I must ask: What are we getting out of this deal, aside from more Federal regulations and bureaucratic red tape in exchange for a real quick hit?