Feds announce plan to withdraw $10 million from grant to Georgia over school reforms

McClatchy Washington BureauJuly 30, 2013 

— The Department of Education notified Georgia on Tuesday that it plans to withdraw $9.9 million of the state’s $400 million Race to the Top education grant because the state has reneged on an agreement to base teacher and principal pay on performance evaluations.

In a letter to Gov. Nathan Deal, the department said it was notifying the state it would begin procedures to withhold the funds unless the state quickly shows that it will go back to the compensation plan it agreed to when it applied for the grant.

Federal education officials often have said they would be “tight on goals and loose on means” with Race to the Top grants. That meant states would have flexibility in how they implemented the changes they agreed to undertake in exchange for funds.

In Race to the Top, started in 2009 at the beginning of the Obama administration, states competed for grant funding on the basis of plans for education reforms. Among other things, they agreed to pursue standards showing that high school graduates were ready for college or a job, to intervene to improve their worst schools and use to data to inform decisions.

This is the first time that the department has moved to withhold part of a Race to the Top grant, department spokesman Cameron French said.

Georgia received its grant under the program in 2010.

The actual withholding will begin with a formal notice that will be sent before the start of the school year if the state doesn’t comply with the demands in the letter, said a senior Education official briefing reporters on condition of anonymity. The state will have an opportunity to appeal the decision.

The letter to Deal on Tuesday from Ann Whalen, the director of policy and program implementation, said that George had changed its plans and would no longer change the way it pays teachers and principals to tie increases to performance.

Instead, it plans to give a one-time bonus to teachers and principals who reduce the achievement gap in high-needs schools next year. It also plans one-time bonuses to teachers and principals based on based on the evaluation system in 2014-15.

That’s a “change of scope” that “significantly decreases or eliminates reform” in that area, Whalen wrote.

The Department of Education made the announcement late Tuesday.

State School Superintendent Dr. John Barge said in a statement that Georgia was not ready to implement a statewide merit pay system. The portion of the grant the Education Department plans to withhold has not been spent yet, he said.

“We will continue to work with federal officials to develop a plan regarding this issue,” Barge added. “But it is critical that we establish an accurate measurement tool for educator performance before we ever consider linking it to merit bonuses for Georgia’s teachers.”

He said the state was on track for a teacher and leaders effectiveness evaluation system in 2014-15.

The grant withdrawal had nothing to do with Georgia’s decision this week that it will not use a standardize test matched to the Common Core English and math standards, the senior Education Department official said. Georgia had been part of a 22-state consortium, the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, that is developing the tests.

Georgia could get the Race to the Top money back if it follows through with its agreement on compensation by the end of the grant period, in September 2014, the official said. States also can apply for a one-year extension of the grant period.

Email: rschoof@mcclatchydc.com; Twitter: @reneeschoof

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