The U.S. Chamber of Commerce does not have a history of bestowing much love on the Obama administration. So it was a bit of a head-turner this week when the prominent business group issued a press release lauding the Education Department.
The chamber gave its seal of approval to the departments awarding its initial Race to the Top grants for public education to Delaware and Tennessee.
This reflects a real emphasis by the U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to award only those states who are truly dedicated to reform, said Arthur J. Rothkopf, senior vice president of the chamber, in the statement. Keeping the bar high also provides great incentives for the remaining states to continue implementing legislative reforms in order to be more competitive for the next phase of funding.
The rare praise follows a blizzard of criticism from the chamber blasting the White Houses stands on health care and financial reform as well as Obamas National Labor Relations Board recess appointment of Craig Becker, who serves as associate general counsel to both the AFL-CIO and the Service Employees International Union.
Chamber spokeswoman Blair Latoff said that the business group has been largely supportive of a number of President Barack Obamas educational initiatives, including the Race to the Top competition and the presidents recommendations to Congress for overhauling the No Child Left Behind law.
Not everyone likes to recognize that, she said.
At the beginning of March, Obama spoke at an event sponsored by Americas Promise Alliance at the chamber where he addressed lowering the dropout rate and preparing students for college.
Conversely, the two major teachers unions, which have been some of Obamas staunchest supporters on health care reform, have not been as thrilled with the Democratic presidents educational policy. The unions responded lukewarmly this week to the Race to the Top awards.
While American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten congratulated Delaware and Tennessee for being selected, she said she was disappointed that no states with large urban centers were among the recipients.
National Education Association President Dennis Van Roekel applauded the recipients for developing education blueprints in collaboration with all stakeholders, alluding to the fact that teachers unions in both states signed off on the plans.
But, he added, unfortunately the Race to the Top competition does not address the pressing needs of students in all states.
For the other 48 states that did not receive any funding, their financial situations are still just as bleak, Van Roekel added.
The teachers unions have also clashed with the Obama administration over its plans to rewrite the No Child Left Behind law, which they say still relies too much on standardized tests to pick winners and losers.
The Race to the Top competition will ultimately award $4 billion in grants to qualifying states. In the first round announced Monday, Delaware is expected to be awarded $100 million and Tennessee is expected to get $500 million. The states were cited for their plans to reform their public school systems, including expanding charter schools and improving teacher evaluation methods.