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Federal education funds at issue

September 30, 2010
The Daily Mining Gazette

It's hard not to be thankful for the $318 million in federal school money promised to Michigan as part of the "edujobs" bill from Congress. The money will arrive in the midst of another budget crisis, and help keep teachers in classrooms.

Don't doubt, however, that the federal funds were in part a gift to teachers unions. Consider one provision of the bill requiring that the money go only to employees who work directly for a school district.

That will keep about 80 percent of the state's charter schools which typically aren't unionized - from receiving the cash. The reason: Employees at those schools are employed by management companies, not by the schools themselves.

Affected charters could work around the provisions by hiring employees directly, avoiding the management companies with which they work. But the money will last only one year, making it difficult to justify such a departure from usual practice.

Michigan's piece of the edujobs money was part of $10 billion distributed nationally. (We see) it as a gift to unions the government can't afford.

How the money will be doled out by state lawmakers remains to be seen, and depends on the outcome of budget negotiations.

The edujobs money could have been tied to similar reforms. Teacher pensions, for instance, are an increasing financial drag on school budgets. Changing that system will demand one-time costs. Congress and Mr. Obama could have used the federal funds to insist on that meaningful change to long-term finances for districts.

In addition, the edujobs money should have recognized charters - and the children who attend them - as deserving of federal help in their own right.

President Obama has in the past shown himself willing to push educational initiatives such as charter schools and merit pay for teachers that haven't traditionally been popular with Democrats. He deserves high marks for tackling ideas that generally meet broad resistance within his party.

A much lower grade goes to Mr. Obama's agreement to dismiss charters in the edujobs bill.

The Grand Rapids Press



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