Statement of Arne Duncan on the National Call on Flexibility and Productivity

Statement of Arne Duncan on the National Call on Flexibility and Productivity

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Good afternoon and thank you for joining us.

I have said many times, that our role here in Washington is to support the great work that is happening all across America at the state and local level. Governors, mayors, Chief State School Officers, Superintendents, Principals, Teachers and parents -- are all taking more responsibility for education and we salute them and support them.

In these difficult fiscal times, meeting the challenge of improving education is even tougher. Many school districts are facing layoffs, reductions in state funding, and massive budget deficits.

State revenues are down and the appetite for new taxes is very low. Many governors have taken them off the table. The result is that children in the classroom are at risk.

We have worked too hard to go backwards. States and districts are pushing hard on reform -- driving change -- asking more of themselves and each other -- and the funding challenges only make it harder.

So, today we sent to all 50 governors two documents aimed at helping them make smart choices that put children first as they balance their budgets, redirect their priorities, protect children in the classroom and advance reform.

The first document is called Flexibility in Using Federal Funds to Meet Local Needs.

It outlines existing opportunities available to states and districts to flexibly invest federal funds. They can funds among certain federal education programs, combine funds in small rural districts, consolidate administrative funds at the state and district levels, and align federal, state, and local education funds to promote comprehensive reforms.

Specifically, we explain that states and districts can transfer up to half of the funds dedicated for a variety of purposes -- after-school programs, education technology, teacher and principal training and recruitment, etc. -- to address other needs.

For example, a share of the money we provide for educational technology can be used for programs to improve and reward teacher and principal effectiveness, and vice versa.

While we always seek the greatest return on investment for children and taxpayers, we believe states and districts are in the best position to tailor the use of federal funds to meet the individual needs of students.

The second document is called Smart Ideas to Increase Educational Productivity and Student Achievement. It describes steps that states, districts, and schools can take to ensure that federal dollars support policies, practices, and programs with the greatest positive impact on students.

These include innovative uses of technology, new staffing policies, targeted adjustments in class size, and compensation models that reward the best work.

There is a right way and a wrong way to cut spending, and the most important guiding principle I can offer is to minimize the negative impact on students and seize this opportunity to redirect your spending priorities.

We're challenging states and districts to use teacher effectiveness in the classroom as a factor in teacher layoffs. Districts should not let go of effective young teachers because it's the easiest path and they should not let go effective, higher-paid veterans to save money.

We have also shared another document called Advancing Student Achievement Through Labor-Management Collaboration, which grew out of an event we held in Denver on February 15 and 16.

As you know, we brought together school board presidents, superintendents and union leaders from 150 school districts in 40 states for a two-day conference on how to put students at the center of the labor-management relationship.

The document -- which is on our website -- identifies school districts in America that have moved beyond the adversarial labor-management relationship and have made great progress on issues like teacher evaluation, compensation, staffing and placement decisions, benefits and strategic agenda-setting.

These relationships are defined by a sense of shared responsibility, shared accountability and shared sacrifice and they proceed from the understanding that we stand or fall together on the quality of education that we provide to our children and young people.

America's governors are facing tougher financial challenges than at any time in recent history. We call this "The New Normal." But we cannot allow the New Normal to take us backwards.

We have to do more with less -- we have to put the needs of children above everyone else. We also invite and challenge all stakeholders, from elected officials at all levels to school administrators, school boards and teacher leaders, to work with you to achieve the very best possible outcome for students.