NEA President to Congress: ‘Focus on kids, fix the tests’
Current budget plan does not go far enough to help all students succeed
By Alain Jehlen
March 17, 2010 — NEA President Dennis Van Roekel today raised an alarm over the big jump in competitive grants in the Obama administration's proposed education budget, saying it could compound the economic squeeze in many school districts.
Van Roekel was testifying before the House Appropriations Committee. On the plus side, he said, the Obama budget calls for increased overall funding. But “those increases would not reach all students, districts, and states,” he said.
The administration has proposed shifting funds away from “formula” grants in which money is allotted according to demographic numbers, and toward competitive grants in which the federal Department of Education decides who gets the money and who doesn’t. The proposed budget raises the share of federal funds in competitive programs from almost 16 percent to nearly a quarter of the total.
“I raise a real red flag” about this trend, Van Roekel said. “Providing certainty to states and local school districts through formula-driven federal aid offers stability in an otherwise rapidly deteriorating fiscal environment.”
Van Roekel also told the committee NEA does not support the Obama administration’s newly released “blueprint” for reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, whose current incarnation is No Child Left Behind.
The blueprint, he noted, “leaves out students’ first teachers—their parents. In fact, the President’s budget would eliminate funding for Parent Information Resources Center, the only federal program dedicated to increasing family engagement.”
Van Roekel criticized the blueprint’s continued focus on testing and its rules that trump local decision-making on how to improve schools.
“If we’re serious about creating a stronger foundation for America’s public schools, it’s important to get the blueprint right before it becomes policy," he said.
The proposal also ties teacher evaluations to student test scores, which is “akin to the federal government telling all mayors or corporations how to evaluate and pay their employees,” he said.
Van Roekel ended with a call for Congress to invest more in education jobs. He noted that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act has been credited with supporting more than 300,000 jobs already, and the economy would be in far worse shape without it. But NEA affiliates are reporting massive layoffs looming for the coming school year all over the country—up to 20,000 in California, 5,000 in Indiana, and 6,000 in North Carolina.
“The road to economic stability and prosperity runs through our public schools and every student deserves the best we can offer,” Van Roekel said. “It is now time to deliver.”