By Kyle Olson
WASHINGTON, D.C. – We’ve apparently reached the depressing point where the federal government routinely ignores citizen inquiries about the use of federal dollars.
The message from D.C. to average citizens is simple and direct – we’ll use the money the way we choose and it’s none of your business.
We at EAGnews were recently reminded of the $5 million “grant” the U.S. Department of Education gave to the American Federation of Teachers Educational Foundation in 2010.
Affiliated with the second largest teachers union in the country, the foundation received the “Investing in Innovation” grant to develop “bold and comprehensive teacher development and evaluation systems in New York and Rhode Island,” according to a September 20, 2010 union press release.
There are a couple of problems with that.
Taxpayers are paying the union $500,000 per district to propose teacher development and evaluation systems for a total of 10 districts between the two states. There’s no guarantee the systems will actually be put to practical use in any school anywhere.
The idea of giving teachers unions the responsibility of developing teacher evaluation systems is absurd.
Teacher evaluations are a very hot topic in states throughout the nation. Lawmakers have been pushing for tougher evaluations so schools can finally reward great teachers and weed out the weak.
But the unions – including the AFT – have been resisting these efforts at every turn. Their biggest objection is having teachers partially evaluated based on their student’s test scores.
The bottom line is that the unions don’t want more teacher accountability. So the Obama administration gives them $5 million to develop teacher evaluation systems. Does anyone expect the AFT to devise a system that will have any teeth?
Why in the world did the Obama administration award a huge grant to an organization that donated lots of money and volunteer time to the president’s two campaigns? Isn’t there a slight conflict of interest there?
But those are questions that should have been answered before the grant was awarded. At least part of the money has been delivered and the government won’t be getting it back.
So what’s the status of the grant? How is the union using our tax money?
Nobody seemed interested in telling us. In fact the bureaucrats seemed offended that we even asked.
We tried to contact the AFT itself, to find out what it’s been doing with the grant money. The contact on the union press release, Tom Lansworth, did not respond to our request for information.
The U.S. Department of Education didn’t seem overly concerned about our inquiries, either.
An initial request for information was sent April 8th to Ann Margaret Galiatsos of the Office of Innovation and Improvement, the office that awarded the grant.
She said the department’s Office of Communications and Outreach would follow up. The deadline for a follow-up call came and went.
We emailed Galiatsos again April 17th, and the communications people finally followed up, first with a terse phone call, but then by saying via e-mail, “Program officers have regular and consistent contact with grantees regarding their project and implementation of the project. Additionally, there is communication with the outside evaluators of projects, and grantees are required to submit annual performance reports.”
We asked for the “annual performance reports,” but the department never responded.
Granted, federal departments blow their noses with $5 million these days, but it’s disturbing there is such a lack of concern about the use a grant of this type, especially considering it went to one of the president’s biggest campaign donors.
The reason the feds won’t tell us how the money is being used is probably because the feds don’t know – or care – themselves.
Even worse is the government’s disinterest in keeping taxpayers updated about the use of the money. Citizens have a right to answers about the use of federal dollars, and department officials should go out of their way to make sure that interested citizens are informed and updated.
Searching for clues
Given the government’s lack of cooperation, we were forced to settle for Internet searches to seek the information we wanted. We found clues in bits and pieces.
The AFT Educational Foundation’s tax return shows it received $2,211,121 in “government grants” in the 2011 fiscal year. We’re guessing that’s part of the federal grant we’re talking about.
In order to receive the taxpayer money, the AFT Education Foundation had to secure a $1 million matching grant.
The foundation tax return lists a $1,019,645 “gift, grant, or capital contribution from other organization(s).” We’re guessing the AFT is the “other organization” and put up the matching grant money for its subsidiary.
The AFT’s financial filing to the U.S. Department of Labor lists receipts from three foundations – the Gates Foundation, the Ford Foundation and the Mott Foundation – for the AFT Education Foundation, two of them specifically referencing “innovation.”
Perhaps that foundation money was used to provide the matching grant money.
It appears a lot of powerful people and organizations have a hand in this grant. So where are the results? A department spokeswoman would only tell EAGnews the grant is “ongoing.”
We learned that the New York State United Teachers, an affiliate of the AFT, held an “Evaluator Training Academy” in August 2011. We’re guessing this program was funded with the grant money.
We were hoping to find answers to several very logical questions, like whether state legislatures or boards of education have any legal responsibility to adopt the union’s evaluation system, and if the states reject those plans, can taxpayers get their money back?
If the evaluation plan works well in the 10 districts, what are the chances of replicating the plan for use around the nation?
Who knows? Apparently the paltry amount of the grant money involved doesn’t warrant much interest at the federal level, or inspire officials to keep the public updated.
The bureaucrats simply can’t be bothered with such minor requests.
No wonder America is $17 trillion in debt.