Friday, May 25, 2012

LAUSD To Apply for Paltry RttT Grant

Huck/Konopacki Labor Cartoons
3 Easy Tricks to Maximize Profits From the Public Sector
1.      Demand low taxes to increase personal income while decimating school budgets, thus making public education look like a disaster in need of corporate management
2.      Claim your private enterprise will solve these problems and should be funded with public tax dollars (e.g., charter schools, Common Core Standards, laptops for every child, new textbooks or ebooks, tutoring services, etc.)
3.      Insist that teachers’ unions are the main impediment to reform and lobby to have them weakened, eviscerated or outright banned

All of the above have been on the table for years at Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), one of the 176 California school districts currently at risk of going bankrupt. The district’s budget deficit for the 2012-13 school year was projected to be $390 million as of 3/13/12, according to the LAUSD website.

There is no question that record low tax rates combined with revenue losses due to the housing market collapse have contributed to LAUSD’s budget woes, which in turn have led district officials to attempt all sort of ludicrous shenanigans, like asking teachers to take 20 furlough days (and consequently asking students to give up 20 days of instructional time). The latest absurdity is Sup. Deasy’s plan to plug the nearly $400 million dyke with a measly $25 million federal Race to the Top (RttT) grant (see the Los Angeles Times).

For the first time, RttT grants will be offered to individual school districts, and not just states, willing to sell their souls for chump change. Aside from the fact that the grant would only cover 6% of the current budget hole, the one-time grant would expire at the end of the school year, leaving the district with the same problem the following year unless it can increase its revenue stream or find longer-term and bigger cuts.

There are those who would argue that $25 million is better than nothing and in these dark times one must take what one can get. However, one must consider what must be sacrificed in order to get this “free” money before one can call it a good deal.

Interestingly, the state of California found the eligibility requirements for RttT so burdensome that it voluntarily withdrew its grant proposal because the money was too little for what was being asked. Unfortunately, it did not make this realization until after it had already implemented some RttT requirements, like adoption of Common Core Standards (CCS), which are projected to cost the state more than $1 billion in new textbook and curriculum costs—far more than it would have won in RttT grants.

One of the biggest sticking points is that the state or local districts would need to get union support before moving ahead, since RttT requires the use of student test score data in teacher evaluations, something that cannot occur without changes to teachers’ contracts. Some NEA and AFT locals around the nation have rolled over and accepted this, despite the fact that the data is inconsistent and often inaccurate even when used properly and, in many cases, it is not even used properly (see here, here and here). Consequently, many good teachers could be mischaracterized as ineffective and possibly fired as a result, thus depriving students of good teachers. Worse, it could drive many good teachers away from challenging lower income schools, or from the profession entirely, thus worsening the problem evaluation reform purports to fix.

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