Friday, November 13, 2009
Education Funds Are Up for Grabs
By Hailey Heinz
Journal Staff Writer
New Mexico stands to receive between $20 million and $75 million in federal Race to the Top funds, but the state may have to seriously consider linking teacher evaluations to student performance in order to be competitive.
U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan on Thursday released details about how states can compete for the money, making clear that the most successful applicants will use student achievement to assess teachers and principals. States cannot even apply if they have laws that would prohibit this, which New Mexico does not.
The administration rolled out the $4.35 billion Race to the Top plan in July.
State Secretary of Education Veronica Garcia said she was pleased at how the application will deal with caps on charter schools. It says states should have "a charter school law that does not prohibit or effectively inhibit increasing the number of high-performing charter schools."
Garcia said charters are thriving in New Mexico, and that the state's cap should not hurt its application. Under New Mexico law, districts with fewer than 3,000 students cannot have more than 10 percent of their students in charters. The law also caps new charter schools at 15 per year.
"I think that we have good authorizing practices, and we collect a lot of the data they're looking for," Garcia said. "I think we can demonstrate that the caps have not impeded the charter school movement in our state, and I think the data will bear that out."
Albuquerque Teachers Federation President Ellen Bernstein said the union would be willing to tie evaluations to student performance if the policy is carefully written and if teachers are involved in writing it.
"I think this is where everybody's going, and obviously this is where the federal government is pushing people to go," Bernstein said. "I think there is a place for this discussion. As long as teachers are doing it with the state and the state isn't doing it to teachers, then it's possible to be innovative and create something that will be beneficial to both the system and to teachers."
Garcia and Bernstein said New Mexico should work to get the most federal money possible.
"We're going to pull out all the stops to make sure we're going to be competitive in applying for this grant," Garcia said.