Education Chief Says Vermont A Longshot For Federal Grant

04/19/10 5:50PM By John Dillon
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AP File Photo/Toby Talbot
(Host) The state's top education official says Vermont is a long shot to win $38 million in federal school improvement grants.

Commissioner Armando Vilaseca's comments came as the state teacher's union complained that its members were unfairly cut out of the grant application process.

VPR's John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) Vilaseca says the federal government wants states to embrace charter schools and the concept of linking teacher pay to student performance.

He says Education Secretary Arne Duncan has told states that if they don't support these programs, they won't do well in the competition for the federal "Race to the Top" funds.

(Vilaseca) "What we're hearing from the secretary is a pretty strong line: charter schools, you lose points. You don't have a teacher evaluation system that is tied into student outcomes, you lose points."

(Dillon) And Vermont doesn't have charter schools or that kind of evaluation system. The federal money is meant to improve schools and reward innovation in public education. Vilaseca says he'll decide this week whether to apply for the money. But right now, he says he's not very confident that the state could win the $38 million.

(Vilaseca) "When I look at the reality. One thing is to wish things the way they were, or to look at them realistically. And when we look at the realistic approach of how many points we would get - or lose - or the things we have or don't have, why would I want to put our hopes on something that we know may not be a reality."

(Dillon) The policies of the state's largest teacher's union may show the difficulty of reaching consensus on the grant proposal.

Vermont NEA President Martha Allen said the union opposes the idea of directly linking teacher evaluations to student test scores.

(Allen) It would be very difficult to do that in a fair and equitable manner. I think that if that was one small component of a broader measurement that would be something Vermont NEA would look into, but just to tie pay to test scores - it just wouldn't work, in Vermont especially.

(Dillon) The federal government wants states to show that the grant proposals have the support of the teacher's union and local administrators.

Allen says the Race to the Top initiative is a huge opportunity. But she says in order to get the union's support, the state needs to collaborate more closely with the NEA.

(Allen) "I think what we need to do is be more involved in the process and then the local association leaders will be more apt to support something when they know that we've had some input along the way."

(Dillon) Commissioner Vilaseca said the state has reached out to the teacher's union as it puts together the proposal.

For VPR News, I'm John Dillon in Montpelier.

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