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State seeks $700 million in educational funding

By Staff | Jun 3, 2010

Florida’s application to receive $700 million worth of educational funding in the second phase of the Race to the Top competition is now en route to the federal government.
Gov. Charlie Crist submitted the state application, garnering the support of almost all school districts, on Tuesday. Overall, the federal government is doling out $4.35 billion to states. Both Delaware and Tennessee won the first phase, collecting $100 million and $500 million, respectively.
State and local officials are now hoping their application has a shot at earning the grant funds.
The Teachers Association of Lee County didn’t support the first phase earlier this year because the memorandum of understanding wasn’t crafted with input from local officials.
Mark Castellano, president of the association, said the union decided to support the second phase because of changes in the drafting process.
“It’s much more collaborative, district-oriented and locally controlled,” said Castellano. “It isn’t the statewide prescriptive, one-size-fits-all MOU that was previously done.”
Nassau, Martin, Manatee, Levy, Indian River, Gulf, Glades, and Gilchrist counties opted out of the second phase.
Crist’s office reported that 54 teacher unions were also supporting the application and Castellano said the state has a very good chance in winning this round.
Much of the agreement arose from the fact that Crist formed a joint task force with officials from the local and state level, including Andy Ford from the Florida Education Association, said Castellano. The FEA even drafted a separate MOU that a number of districts also signed.
Two strengths of the new memorandum are that local officials have more control over what measures they adopt and they can phase in any changes over a longer period of time, rather than having a year or less to adopt new policies. It also affords unions like TALC more protection in collective bargaining negotiations.
Some of the ongoing concerns from the union’s perspective include teacher performance pay and evaluations, he said.
“Performance pay is always a concern, in the past we had these plans shoved down our throats and they have never worked,” said Castellano.
He said teachers need to be evaluated on more than simply the percent of student gains.
“There is a lot more involved to teaching a child, and we want to weigh all of those things in,” he said.
The purpose of Race to the Top is to assist schools that have struggling students, improve teacher performance, formulate national educational standards and update school district data systems through enacting a series of reforms outlined in the MOU.
In a prepared statement, Crist said he is proud of the efforts taken by all stakeholders to improve the phase two application.
“The work of our students, parents, teachers, administrators and legislators to be united in providing a quality education is evident in this application and I feel strongly this will help us win the race,” he said.
If the state receives this grant funding, half will be awarded to participating school districts and the rest will fund state-level projects.