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Small funding losses point to big obstacles for new evaluations

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said last month that the state’s progress on teacher evaluations met his requirements to keep Race to the Top funds flowing. But city officials’ handling of smaller pools of the federal funds suggests that they don’t think the city is anywhere close to meeting the same standard.

Last week, the Department of Education returned $7.5 million in federal funds that the state doled out for the city to design schools that make students college ready, the New York Post reported today. The city’s explanation: That it has not yet adopted new teacher evaluations, a string attached to the funding.

It’s a situation that our reporting predicted last fall, when the state began opening up mission-specific pools of Race to the Top funds to districts. Nearly all of the funding pools came with a requirement that the districts adopt teacher evaluations that comply with the state’s 2010 evaluation law.

At the time, the state was requiring districts to commit to having new evaluations in place for this school year, so the city applied for funding only for 33 schools where it had reached a partial evaluations agreement with the teachers union. Now, even though the city and union have publicly announced a deal on the issue that derailed that agreement, the city is sitting out of funding streams that don’t require new evaluations until next year.

The decision is curious because city officials said after Gov. Andrew Cuomo brokered a statewide evaluations deal that they were throwing in the towel on negotiations for the 33 struggling schools, to the union’s chagrin, in order to focus on reaching a citywide deal for next year. That’s when Cuomo has ordered districts to finalize new evaluations or risk forgoing state school aid increases.

But if the city isn’t willing to commit to new evaluations for next year, it stands to reason that officials are even less confident that a deal is in reach than they were last year, when the partial agreement was reached.

Union officials say the city’s decision to give up on the $7.5 million is proof that the Bloomberg administration isn’t interested in reaching a deal on evaluations.

Since Cuomo announced a statewide deal on a revised framework for new evaluations last month — which was accompanied by a city deal on the sticky issue of appeals for teachers who receive low ratings — the city and UFT have not had additional talks, union officials confirmed last week.

“It’s just pretty clear evidence that they have no intention of negotiating a new agreement,” UFT President Michael Mulgrew told the Post.

Under federal rules, districts whose applications are turned down see their funds distributed across the rest of the state.