A group representing Georgia teachers is coming out against the state’s application for federal "Race to the Top" money, the latest volley in a war between the governor’s office and teachers’ associations.
The Georgia Association of Educators has questioned aspects of the state’s bid for part of the $4.35 billion federal grant competition. But now the association, which represents more than 40,000 teachers in the state, is formally opposing the application because the group — along with the Professional Association of Georgia Educators — was not allowed to give input on the proposal.
"GAE offered our desire to participate in the process, and we were flat-out ignored," association President Jeff Hubbard said. "We want to be a part of fixing education, but there are too many weaknesses in Georgia’s application."
The association plans to send a letter outlining its opposition to the U.S. Department of Education, Hubbard said.
Gov. Sonny Perdue has called the associations obstructionists and said he doesn’t believe the associations truly represent the views of Georgia’s teachers any longer.
Though the teachers’ groups were not included, there were educators on the committee that crafted the state’s application, said Perdue’s spokesman, Bert Brantley. And the state used a survey of 20,000 educators across the state to help write the proposal for $400 million, he said.
Hall County Schools superintendent Will Schofield served on the Race to the Top committee.
"The only opposition I have heard from teacher groups has surrounded the concept of pay performance," he said Wednesday. "The Georgia proposal allows current teachers to opt out of performance pay and remain in the current compensation structure."
He added that developing a system to reward effective teachers may be difficult, but "it is work worth pursuing."
"We should find a way to compensate our most effective teachers and attract the best and brightest university students into the profession." he said.
Georgia came in third during the first round of "Race to the Top," losing out to winners Tennessee and Delaware. The program is designed to encourage states to adopt innovative reforms that raise student achievement and turnaround failing schools. The U.S. Department of Education is set to hand out another round of grants in the fall.
Teacher buy-in is a key factor in the scoring of "Race to the Top" applications, but U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan has warned states against diluting their reform efforts just to get the support of unions and other associations. At the same time, he has praised Tennessee and Delaware for garnering the full approval of their teachers’ groups.
"The feedback from the U.S. Department of Education was that Georgia needed to include all school districts and the two major teacher organizations ," said Merrianne Dyer, Gainesville City Schools superintendent. "... (Perdue) has indicated that he will not seek input from the two groups before submitting the application for the second round. Therefore, I infer that he does not value the input of the educators who will actually do the work."
Hubbard said GAE is concerned that Georgia’s application only applies to 23 school districts in the state — out of 180. The association also worries that the state is rushing into creating a teacher evaluation system without making sure it’s a fair and effective way to measure educators, he said.
Tim Callahan, spokesman for PAGE, which represents about 80,000 educators in the state, said the group also doesn’t support the state’s application, for many of the same reasons Hubbard’s association outlined. Still, he said it’s "a little late in the game" to write a letter opposing the bid.