Lack of Teacher Union Buy-in Hurt Florida "Race to the Top"

TAMPA (3-29-2010) -

Florida was the surprise loser in today’s announcement of federal “Race to the Top” money – and a lack of buy-in by teacher unions is partially to blame.

Florida, once considered the top contender, came in fourth. And there was “a significant gap” between it and the two winners, Delaware and Tennessee, according to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

Both of those states had the support of most teacher union chapters – 100 percent in Delaware and 93 percent in Tennessee.

By contrast, only 8 percent of Florida’s local chapters signed on to the grant application.

Duncan said union support was only part of the application.

“Buy-in was an important piece of the application. It was by no means a deciding factor,” he said.

State education officials in Florida admit the lack of union buy-in probably hurt the application.

And relations have gotten worse since Florida submitted its application in January. Republicans are pushing through a bill that would eliminate teacher tenure and base the certification and raises on how their students perform on standardized tests.

Florida Education Association spokesman Mark Pudlow says the in-fighting is keeping the state from winning the federal money.

“One of the big deals in this competition was to get everybody to cooperate on a plan. And part of the problem we’re seeing with the legislature in Florida is they’re imposing this. They’re making the decisions and saying to teachers, this is what you’re going to do,” Pudlow said.

Another problem with Florida’s application – not every county school district signed on to the plan, either.

Florida will have a second chance at the money. Round 2 applications are due June 1.
Pudlow says the union wants to work with state education officials and lawmakers, but said they were unwilling to compromise.

As proof, he cites the Hillsborough County Education Association, which worked with county administrators to win a $100 million grant from the Gates Foundation, which includes many of the changes sought in the state’s “Race to the Top” application.

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