By Peter Marcus, DENVER DAILY NEWS
The state’s largest teachers’ union is defending itself against allegations that it is throwing a “tantrum” by not backing the second round competition of Race to the Top federal education grant money in protest of a measure that targets teacher tenure.
The Colorado Education Association says it simply cannot support round two of the competition because Senate Bill 191 has been directly linked to success in the competition. Colorado is competing for $175 million in education grant money.
SB 191, sponsored by Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver, aims at improving how teachers are evaluated and granted tenure in Colorado. The measure would put added pressure on teachers to prove their worth in being awarded tenure, and establishes an annual evaluation system to measure a teacher’s effectiveness. The measure would also allow for tenure to be revoked if a teacher is under-performing.
Commissioner of Education Dwight Jones has cited the need for SB 191 as a boost to the state’s efforts in competing for the Race to the Top grant money.
The Colorado Education Association, which adamantly opposes SB 191, believes that the measure and round two of the competition should be considered separate issues. A spokeswoman for the union points out that it backed round one of the competition and had been actively engaged in the process since the beginning.
But when Jones linked SB 191 to the Race to the Top competition, the Colorado Education Association’s membership demanded that it not back round two of the competition, said Deborah Fallin, spokeswoman for the union.
“We are a Democratic organization run by our members and they said, ‘Don’t you dare commit us to round two of Race to the Top if all of the leaders (the commissioner) are going to say it’s dependent upon this very poorly written bill,’” said Fallin.
The union believes SB 191 is premature given the fact that the Council for Educator Effectiveness was only recently created in January and has yet to define “effectiveness.” Concerns are also being raised about costs to individual school districts, due process and local control.
“At this point, that (Race to the Top) application is not going to include a glowing letter of support from the Colorado Education Association,” said Fallin. “We’re not saying never, ever, but we’re saying right now — this dynamic does not allow us in our representation of 40,000 members to sign on.”
Sen. Nancy Spence, R-Centennial, immediately accused the union of throwing a “tantrum” that comes at the disadvantage of schoolchildren in Colorado, who should be considered the greater good to the union.
“The teacher union tantrum over this bill threatens $175 million for Colorado schoolchildren and classrooms,” said Spence in a statement. “That doesn’t seem to matter much to union members …”
At a time when K-12 education in Colorado is slated to be cut anywhere from 6-8 percent in the coming fiscal year’s budget, Spence is wondering why the teachers’ union isn’t thinking more about school funding.
“K-12 must not be as underfunded as the teachers union claims if they are going to this much trouble to block a bill and a grant application that would wholly benefit Colorado schools,” said Spence.
But Fallin says the Race to the Top grant money would not even be applied to basic operating expenses, instead only intended to be used for innovation. She says the boost would only be about $25 per student per year over four years.
“We’re running after the shiny penny,” Fallin said of the state’s motivation to win the competition.
“They’re huge disproportionate pieces,” she continued, speaking about SB 191 and the Race to the Top competition. “They don’t equal each other.”