Three large school districts, Chicago, Milwaukee, and New York, have bailed out of Teacher Incentive Fund (TIF) grants. The Teacher Incentive Fund’s competitive grant program aims at promoting performance-based compensation and PD for educators. Overall, the three districts forfeited $88 million.
The problem? A lack of teacher buy-in for the grants’ promises. Under the first round of TIF (in 2010), applicants were not required to get union sign off on applications. The second round that took place this year changed this rule—all applicants were required to get letters of support from their teachers’ unions.
“None of these [2010 grant terminations] is a surprise, and all could have been predicted at the time the projects were submitted,” said William Slotnik, founder and executive director of the Community Training and Assistance Center, who has worked with many TIF grantees over the past two years.
In Chicago, the main problem leading to TIF grant termination was a lack of trust and collaboration. Soon after Chicago won their TIF grant, there was a change of leadership in the teachers’ union, and with it a change in the level of support for the TIF promises. Chicago’s application had promised to tie teacher compensation directly to student test scores, known as the Teacher Advancement Program (TAP). As a result of terminating the grant, Chicago’s school district had to return $21 million dollars, which they had already received under their $35 million grant.
New York City, on the other hand, had a good amount of collaboration after the grant was awarded, but these efforts broke down when the federal Education Department decreed that New York’s application did not put sufficient emphasis on student test scores to meet grant priorities. Once this news came, negotiations broke down with the teachers’ union and the school system had to pull out of the program. The City’s school district returned the $24 million they had received from their $46 million dollar grant.
Milwaukee also used a version of the TAP program, and also did not have the support of the teachers’ union. “We returned the  grant because it required adoption of the TAP model, which was not a model fully embraced by our teachers, and which we ultimately found was not consistent with our vision of teacher-effectiveness efforts,” said Tony Tagliavia, a media manager for the Milwaukee district. The district returned the $1.2 million they had already collected of their $7.6 million award over the winter.