by Eric Holcombe
I believe the TN State Dept. of Ed. is guilty of fraud at the federal level for lying on the Race To The Top Application for hundreds of millions received in federal taxpayer funds.
I found the recent story of the petition circulating amongst various public school district leaders and the TEA’s version in Nashville and Williamson County stating a vote of “no confidence” in state education commissioner Kevin Huffman a little surprising, if not hypocritical. If you have looked at the State of Tennessee’s application for Race To The Top (RTTT), you know there was a requirement for the states to show solidarity among the public school districts by signing a memorandum of understanding (MOU) committing themselves to the requirements contained in the 1100-page Race To The Top application which included great expansion of data collection on the students, mandatory online achievement testing, as well as implementing the Common Core “State” Standards (or if you had the time and resources, implementing your own multi-state consortium of academic standards instead). The state made the claim in this application that their goals were aligned to the federal department of education, so they used the MOU provided by the federal department of education and obtained signatures from not only the directors of schools, but the school board chairs and teacher’s union representative (as applicable) from nearly every district in TN.
From page 17 Section A(1)(ii)(a) in the RTTT application:
“We also used the U.S. Department of Education’s sample MOU because our goals were aligned with it and because our districts asked for an MOU as soon as possible so they could have discussions with their unions and school boards. The MOU, reflecting the terms and conditions of our application, is attached as Appendix A-1-2.
• Section A(1)(ii)(b): Similarly, we sent the U.S. Department of Education’s sample Scope of Work because we believed our goals were aligned with it. We are pleased that 100% of our 136 participating districts and 4 state special schools committed to each and every reform criterion, as the summary table demonstrates. We achieved this sign-on rate even though all participating LEAs will have to implement a bold set of policy and practice changes, including using student growth as one of multiple measures in evaluating and compensating teachers and leaders; denying tenure to teachers who are deemed ineffective as gauged partly by student growth; relinquishing control over their persistently lowest-achieving schools; increasing the number of students who are taught by effective teachers; and, in many cases, opening their doors to more charter schools. The sample Scope of Work is attached as Appendix A-1-3.
• Section A(1)(ii)(c): As a sign of our statewide approach, 131 of our 136 participating districts and 4 state special schools submitted all three applicable signatures – superintendent, school board president, and union leader.The summary table demonstrates that we had 100% success rates in obtaining the signature of every superintendent and applicable school board president, and a 93% success rate in obtaining the signature of every applicable local teachers’ union leader. (Not all Tennessee school districts have collective bargaining; nonetheless, we asked for the support of local union/association leaders regardless of whether they represented teachers in a collective-bargaining capacity.)”
I found it pretty interesting that all those directors of schools and union leaders who allegedly signed the Federal Dept. of Ed. MOU selling their souls for Common Core would develop convenient amnesia and start complaining about Huffman implementing the very things contained in the application they would have sworn assurance to “be familiar with” and agree to. I was figuring they really didn’t read the 1100-page application and possibly didn’t actually see the first “confidential” rough draft of the Common Core “state” Standards that were contained in the application. I suspected they had to hurry and rubber stamp their approval (like the legislators, gubernatorial candidates, charter operators, philanthropists and colleges did). I was particularly interested in the date they signed these MOUs. Here’s why:
1. The date of the Race To The Top application is January 18, 2010.
2. The “confidential” first rough draft of the Common Core “state” Standards contained within the application is dated January 13, 2010, only five days prior.
3. I figured there was no way these directors, school board chairs and union reps actually read this stuff, but it would be especially ridiculous if their signatures on the MOUs were dated prior to January 13, 2010 because that would mean it was not possible to even see the first rough draft of Common Core before committing to whatever it becomes in the future.
I requested an electronic copy of these signed MOUs from the state Dept. of Ed. After an initial written response announcing a 10-day delay to collect the information, I was told on day ten that these were on legal sized paper and it would be “easiest for them” for me to come to Nashville to pick up copies. I agreed and traveled to Nashville to pick them up. Upon receipt of the copies, I noticed that not only were the provided MOUs NOT the same federal-government-provided ones claimed to be signed in the Race To The Top application, but in addition they were only signed by the directors of schools. Also, I was surprised by the signature dates. They were all signed in May and June of 2010, four to five months AFTER the Race To The Top application and at least 45 days after the RTTT money was awarded to Tennessee.
I made a second request for the signed federal-government-provided MOUs including the quoted portion above from the RTTT application that explicitly states all the signatures were collected on the federal MOUs:
“1. Did the 131 participating districts and 4 special school districts submit this MOU included in Appendix A of the RTTT application signed by all parties as claimed in the RTTT application? If so, this was the information I originally requested and still want to obtain copies for all districts.
2. If not, did the local chairs of boards of education and/or the local union representative in these districts sign another MOU such as the altered one signed by the directors of schools that have been provided to me?
3. Were there any other MOUs related to RTTT requirements signed by these three parties (directors of schools, chairs of local school boards, union representatives) that are dated prior to the RTTT application date of January 18, 2010?
4. Who wrote this portion of the RTTT application quoted above regarding the “sign on” rate of the school districts to the sample MOU? Education First?”
The response I received truncated my questions to answer only #1 above, ignoring the follow-ups. The answer: They do not exist.
Now the protest and petition by the directors of schools makes sense. So do the words of White County HS Assistant Principal Jerry Lowery in the Senate Education Committee “fact-finding” hearing: “We were presented with a done deal and now we are caught in a web that we never spun”.
Bottom line: The State of Tennessee committed federal fraud in obtaining hundred of millions of taxpayer dollars by lying on the RTTT application about the non-existent, local “unanimous support” for RTTT and the Common Core standards to improve their grant score.
The Common Core “state” Standards first became available for the public to view and comment on March 17, 2010. This is nearly 60 days after Tennessee’s RTTT application was submitted on January 18, 2010 committing TN schools to the standards that didn’t exist yet. Round one RTTT money was awarded on March 29, 2010, less than two weeks later.
Not a single Tennessee director of schools, school board chair or TEA representative had signed either the Federal Dept. of Ed. MOU or the altered state version MOUs yet. This would not happen for another 60-90 days. These were all signed in May and June, presumably in order for the State Board of Ed. To pass Common Core in their special called meeting in July as they promised to do in the RTTT application.
If you would like to see the MOUs that were actually signed (only by the directors of schools), those can be found on the state’s RTTT website here at the bottom of the page under “Approved District Scopes of Work” by school district. These are identical to the copies that were provided to me. I am not certain why the department didn’t simply refer me to these electronic versions rather than give me the run-around with the paper copies, but it is possible they didn’t know they existed since the two contacts I made were not employed there in 2010 (Bredesen’s administration). Within these documents, you can also see what spending each district committed to for the amount of RTTT money they were to be awarded. Of course this is all taking place after the federal grant was awarded to the state. There is an additional “scope of work” signature block with spaces for the director of schools, school board chair and TEA representative or funding agency for the district that is not signed. The TEA representative block has been made “optional” when it is used. A second, rotated copy of this page follows with the signatures. However, these signatures only assure their awareness that the money provided is one-time and will not cover any recurring expenses the district commits to in spending the RTTT money. Only the directors of schools committed the school districts to implementation of RTTT requirements with the altered state-version MOUs two months after the money was awarded. These state-version signed MOUs and LEA commitments follow the scope of work tables with projected expenditures. Note that these MOUs are even more vague than the one provided by the Federal Dept. of Ed, such that it is certainly not clear what you are committing to. I hope your director of schools read all 1100 pages before selling you out for some one-time money and signing onto that last line:
“Although all programs listed in the commitments have not been developed, my LEA will participate as they become available. Even though my LEA may or may not spend RTTT funds on the elements of RTTT, I do understand my LEA will be expected to support/implement the commitments listed above.”
Good luck with that. Might be worth looking back at your April, May, June 2010 board meeting minutes for discussion on completely changing all the academic standards, mandatory online testing, etc.
So, my questions to the State Dept. of Ed remain:
Were there any other MOUs related to RTTT requirements signed by these three parties (directors of schools, chairs of local school boards, union representatives) that are dated prior to the RTTT application date of January 18, 2010?
Who wrote this portion of the RTTT application quoted above regarding the “sign on” rate of the school districts to the sample MOU? Education First?