U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan can’t manage 100,000 schools from Washington. Newly elected state school Superintendent John Barge can’t manage 1,800 schools from Atlanta.
Yet, both men are charged with the task of improving schools that have been resistant and, at times, hostile, to change.
Both profess to believe that poor children and children of color are capable of academic excellence. Duncan witnessed it firsthand through an after-school enrichment program than his mother launched in south Chicago in 1961 and still runs today.
Barge lived it, describing growing up poor with an alcoholic father and few supports; he discovered for himself early on that education could change his life.
How well Duncan and Barge will work together remains to be seen. Barge supports less federal involvement, even calling for an end to Georgia taking federal money because of the strings that come with it.
But he is bonded to Duncan by a strong adhesive; a $400 million Race to the Top grant won largely by the efforts of fellow Republican, Gov. Sonny Perdue.
Half the grant will flow directly to the 26 Georgia school districts that agreed to be part of the application; half will be used statewide.
That federal largesse may be the last Georgia or any other state sees for awhile.
At an Education Trust conference in Washington last week, a senior aid to the influential Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tennessee, told reporters that the election of a Republican majority in the House portends a new austerity.
“Money is really short, money is really tight; States and districts need to use their money a lot more efficiently, a lot more creatively,” said Alexander aide David Cleary.
While Carmel Martin, US DOE assistant secretary for the Office of Planning, Evaluation, and Policy Development, told reporters at the same conference that the White House would like a second round of Race to the Top grants, Cleary raised doubts about whether Congress would approve additional funds in view of the public demand for less government and less spending.
Given the new realities in Washington, Georgia may be among the first and only recipients of a grant. Georgia was one of 12 states that won the grants this year in a highly competitive process.
Martin was asked whether she felt another pot of federal dollars, the $10 billion Education Jobs Funds designed to save teacher jobs, was misspent. In many districts across the country, including some in Georgia, the money was used for teacher raises rather than for saving jobs. Georgia school districts received $322.3 million.
Why, Martin was asked, didn’t the federal government limit the funds to saving jobs?
The reason was political, she said. Not all states had teacher layoffs, but Congress wanted all states to have access to the funds. To placate them, the Obama White House did not limit the funds to job recovery. The money was allowed to be spent on jobs and personnel, thus allowing districts greater latitude to apply it to teacher raises and benefits.
I am adding a comment here from a teacher/poster about the AJC’s use of the word “raise” in its new stories as I think it is important to keep in mind that these “raises” don’t offset other cuts many teachers have experienced in some districts:
I am making about $24,000 less this year than I was scheduled to make due to furlough days, step increases that got absorbed by the district, and TSA payments that vanished…..
….and you call the $1,025 check I will get from the Education Jobs Stimulus a “bonus” and a “raise?”