Sunday, January 10, 2010

Michigan's Race to the Top Plan

Having now had the belated opportunity to review a final summary of the state's plan, my concerns remain the same.  The plan is based on a number of unfunded "will develop" tasks at the state level that are not yet determined or spelled out, nor do they adequately describe the potential costs and requirements at the local level.  Therefore, any agreement to the plan is an agreement to do something that hasn't even been decided or developed yet.  That's akin to purchasing an auto that hasn't even been designed, let alone built.

My other concern is the seemingly significant costs to local districts, especially given the state's 31-year history of ignoring the Headlee amendment's prohibition on unfunded mandates to local governments and schools.  A number of those new costs are structurally recurring versus one-time.  This is particularly true for the expansion of CEPI and data collection.  CEPI, which has existed since 12/23/78 is already at the center of significant unfunded mandates for Michigan school districts. The Final Report of the Legislative Commission on Statutory Mandates dated 12/31/09 estimated the center's reporting requirements amounted to an annual unfunded mandate between $50 and $100 million, and this has been going on for over thirty years!  A court case (Adair) is currently pending but moving at a typical slow pace.  RttT definitely intends to increase the amount of time, resources and staffing at the local district due to a new CEPI Statewide Longitudinal Data System (SLDS).

There are other long-term costs associated with on-going professional development, designing and testing new evaluation instruments, adopting, as well as aligning and assessing new college, career, K-12 math and ELA standards that haven't even been completed yet.

The entire concept in the plan (as well as the recently adopted legislation) continues to force a "plain vanilla" state-wide system for operating local school districts, yet the state does not uniformly fund schools.  We saw this with the new graduation requirements and corresponding Michigan Merit Curriculum.  The state wants everyone to be the same and produce the same results but doesn't fund schools equally.  RttT is simply going to exacerbate this problem.

It's evident from the plan's summary that much of this has been throw together in haste merely to satisfy Secretary Duncan's power grab in return for a "few pieces of silver."  Michigan taxpayers need to ask the question, who is going to fund all of these ongoing change initiatives when the federal money runs out?  Districts need to understand the new funding cliff this creates.

At the moment, I cannot recommend that our district sign onto the plan but will wait until I meet with our teacher association leaders and Board of Education tomorrow.  We are trying to determine precisely how much of this plan will effect us anyway due to the recently approved legislation versus what is being added on at potentially greater costs.  If it turns out we have to comply with most of the plan anyway, than why not take the money?