Union backing seen as necessary

DETROIT- Everyone agrees that union support will be needed if Michigan wants to win any money in the second round of the Race to the Top competition, but few details have emerged on just how that will happen, according to a Detroit Free Press report.

The Michigan Department of Education said it will "bring together all of the education stakeholders" to discuss the matter, but spokesman Martin Ackley declined comment specifically on teachers unions, the Free Press reported. Meanwhile, a Michigan Education Association spokesman told the Free Press that the union would "be inclined to participate in a truly collaborative process."

In the first round, Michigan secured limited support from the Michigan Federation of Teachers, while the Michigan Education Association didn't sign on at all, the Free Press reported. Delaware and Tennessee, which won first-round competitive grants, had 100 percent and 93 percent union support, respectively. The next application, for up to $400 million in federal funds, is due June 1, according to the Free Press.

Union backing is viewed as an indicator of local support for education reform and improving teacher quality, Richard Hess, director of education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, told the Free Press.

"Until Michigan can find some way to work more effectively with the unions, they're going to be out of the Race to the Top mix," Susan Neuman, a University of Michigan education professor and former U.S. Department of Education assistant secretary, told the Free Press.

Doug Pratt, the MEA spokesman, told the Free Press that the union is concerned with protecting collective bargaining rights in low-performing schools earmarked for reform.

Detroit Free Press, "State studies how to win school aid," April 9, 2010

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Nicely Played, MEA! 'Race to the Top' is starting to look like a fiasco," March 9, 2010