ABC News’ Yunji de Nies Reports:
Tomorrow, on the anniversary of his election, President Barack Obama heads to Madison, Wisconsin to speak at a local middle school. He’ll address education policy, with a focus on the ‘Race to the Top’ initiative. That $4.35 billion dollar program, funded through the Recovery Act, is a national competition among the states, to inspire education reform.
“He’s going to talk about his education reform plan and he’s going to highlight the importance of innovation and excellence in our public education system,” said Melody Barnes, Director of the Domestic Policy Council, on a conference call with reporters, “This competition is not based on politics or ideology or interest group preferences. It’s based on whether or not a state is ready to do what actually works.”
To qualify for the money, states must meet four “assurances”: -designing and adopting internationally benchmarks and standards -recruiting, developing, rewarding and retaining effective teachers and principals -build data systems that measure students’ success -providing support for turning around low performing schools, in part by expanding the number of charter schools
When the parameters on the funding were first announced, several states were immediately identified as already out of the running because of existing state laws. Among them, California, that state’s legislature quickly acted to change its laws to qualify by allowing teacher pay to be linked to student performance. Barnes said a number of other states, including Illinois, Tennessee, Ohio, Connecticut, Rhode Island have raised their charter caps or defeated proposed cuts to charter school funding, so that they too can compete. Wisconsin’s state legislature will vote on Thursday on legislation similar to that adopted by California, which would allow students performance to impact teacher pay. If the measure does not pass, Wisconsin will not be eligible for Race to the Top dollars.
Education Secretary Arne Duncan told ABC News in July that as in any competition not everyone will win, and thus some states will not receive this funding. He said hopes the competitive spirit will drive reform.
"I think there'll be tremendous pressure on states, state legislatures where things aren't happening, by parents saying exactly that: 'Our children deserve a slice of the pie, and we want that pressure,'" Duncan said, “This isn't about winners and losers…This is about challenging the status quo as a country, getting dramatically better and giving every child in this country a chance they desperately need to have a great, great quality education."
The Department of Education will begin accepting applications in the next few weeks, and awarding the money in January. There will be two rounds of funding, so states that do not qualify or win grants in this first round will be able to apply again later in 2010.
“Ultimately, this idea is really simple,” Barnes said, “We want to support strategies that are working and replicate them all over the country. We will subject every application that we get to a rigorous review. And we will only award grants to those that demonstrate real commitment and real results. That’s the President’s ultimate goal.”
-- Yunji de Nies