States given a bit more flexibilityDuncan criticizes last-hired, first-fired
U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan called on state and local officials to be flexible and creative with federal education funds to protect students from the harshest cuts during this budget crisis. Duncan dubbed the nation’s financial woes “The New Normal” during a conference call with reporters on Thursday, and said states need to rise to this challenge.
“There is a right way and a wrong way to cut spending, and the most important guiding principle I can offer is to minimize the negative impact on students and seize this opportunity to redirect your spending priorities.”
The Department of Education sought to provide some guidance on how to do that. Duncan said they sent two documents to all 50 governors explaining that they can transfer money from education technology, teacher and principal training and recruitment, and after-school programs into areas where the local need is more critical.
“While we always seek the greatest return on investment for children and taxpayers, we believe states and districts are in the best position to tailor the use of federal funds to meet the individual needs of students,” said Duncan.
There was nothing new in the announcement. Secretary Duncan acknowledged that states have always had this ability under No Child Left Behind, but he said many of them either weren’t aware of it or needed a reminder. That’s not the case in California, which has been taking advantage of the flexibility since 2002, according to the Government Affairs branch of the State Department of Education.
Base layoffs on effectiveness
Duncan waded into more sensitive areas when discussing class size reduction and teacher layoffs. He echoed one of Bill Gates’ controversial calls, in a column this week in the Washington Post, to increase salaries for great teachers who agree to take on larger classes, and he cautioned districts not to rely solely on seniority when sending out layoff notices. “We’re challenging states and districts to use teacher effectiveness in the classroom as a factor in teacher layoffs,” said Duncan. “Districts should not let go of effective young teachers because it’s the easiest path and they should not let go effective, higher-paid veterans to save money.”