News and Tribune

April 22, 2010

State superintendent says he won’t pursue Race to the Top funds due to the ISTA


>>SOUTHERN INDIANA — Indiana lost the first round in competing for Race to the Top federal funds, which has been blamed on the lack of union support.

Now, Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett is dropping out of round two of the race before it even starts.

“I received notice [Wednesday] that the Indiana State Teachers Association is unwilling to join me for an open and transparent discussion regarding union support for vital components of Indiana’s Race to the Top application,” Bennett said. “Without support from the union that represents more than 90 percent of Indiana’s school districts, our application will not be competitively positioned. Therefore, Indiana will not apply for Phase 2 funding.”

The deadline to apply for the second round is June 1 and if approved, Indiana could have received up to $250 million.

Stephanie Sample, press secretary for the IDOE, said union support this time around is essential.

“The largest portion of our Race to the Top application was Section D on great teachers and leaders. The U.S. [Department of Education] assigned the greatest point value to this section of state applications. Every other aspect of the application was within our control, but Section D required union buy-in. Their lack of strong, expressed support for our reforms in this area devastated our chances to be competitive,” Sample said. “Likewise, as we considered reapplying for Phase 2, IDOE realized that it could independently strengthen all aspects of the application — except the most important section on teachers and leaders that depends on union support for success. Dr. Bennett made it clear that without union support, we would not apply in Phase 2 because it would be a fully futile endeavor.”

Nate Schnellenberger, president of the ISTA, sent Bennett a letter after being asked to meet with him to discuss the Race to the Top application, with media present.

“I have received your invitation to meet to discuss specific components in Indiana’s Race to the Top proposal that did not receive funding in the initial round of the program,” he wrote. “After having thoroughly reviewed the application and having carefully read the reviewers’ comments, I do not believe a single meeting in your office, with the media in attendance, can begin to produce the kind of work that needs to be accomplished to create a viable plan for funding in the program’s second round.

“That being said, I respectfully decline your invitation to attend.”

He went on to say the ISTA is open to working with Bennett and his staff in meaningful work sessions, but won’t participate “in a media event arranged for the purpose of strong-arming ISTA into agreeing to an unequivocal sign-off regarding the Indiana Department of Education’s Race to the Top application demands.”

One of the reform ideas Bennett was seeking union support on was to have 51 percent of teachers’ annual performance evaluations tied to students’ test scores.

Delaware and Tennessee won the first round of competitive grants. Delaware will receive about $100 million and Tennessee will get $500 million to implement school reform plans.

To read Indiana’s application and judges comments from the first round, go to

The U.S. Department of Education will have about $3.4 billion available for the second phase of the competition.