Back in July, the Obama administration requested $1.4 billion to continue its Race to the Top program — which provides competitive grants to states to implement education reform — but the Senate and the House both refused to play along, with the former chopping funding for the program down to just $675 million. However, the full 2011 appropriations process has not been completed yet, so there is still time to fully fund another year of the program.
But if Rep. John Kline (R-MN) — the ranking member on the House Education and Labor Committee, who will take the gavel if the GOP gains a House majority — has anything to say about it, Race to the Top might not receive any more funding, period, as he told Dropout Nation:
I think it was irresponsible of Congress to give [Secretary of Education Arne Duncan] $5 billion with no strings attached. Race to the Top did some pretty bold things and some of them were in line with the Republican agenda like expanding charter schools. Other parts can be problematic. When you begin moving to a common assessment, if you’re only going reward states for adopting common standards, then you are moving into creating a common curriculum. Many of us are afraid that with common curriculum, are moving to a national curriculum. If you look at the second tranche of Race to the Top, only the states that adopted common standards would get Race to the Top money.
This year, President Obama asked for $1.3 billion more for Race to the Top this budget year. Why should Congress give more money to a program that hasn’t proven itself? Race to the Top money is just one-time money. A lot of states didn’t get it. And the states who got the money, I’m not sure that they would have done [undertaken the required reforms] if they didn’t need the money.
First, Kline seems willing to write off the program before giving it a chance to prove itself. And it’s undeniable that program has driven reforms, even in states that weren’t ultimately awarded grants. In all, 28 states put reform measures in place to compete in the program.
For instance, Delaware, a RTTT winner, passed a new law on teacher and principal effectiveness, along with financial incentives for teachers, with 100 percent support from the state’s teachers union. Colorado, which didn’t end up winning, put in place a new law raising the standards for teacher tenure and introducing meaningful teacher evaluations. As the New Teacher Project put it, “Race to the Top has already accelerated education reform by decades in some states.”
Kline’s fears about the common curriculum are also unfounded, as the effort was driven by the National Governor’s Association, under Republican Gov. Sonny Perdue (GA). Though supported by the Obama administration, it is a state-led initiative that sets a floor — not a ceiling — for academic standards and has the support of the American Federation of Teachers. “Imagine in football if one team made a first down in 7 yards and the other in 10 yards. That’s not fair,” said AFT President Randi Weingarten said. “Once the states adopt this, that’s when the preparation really begins to take this from ‘should’ to ‘will.’”
As the New York Times editorial board put it, “the Race to the Top initiative won’t solve this country’s education problems by itself, but it is focusing attention on the right issues and moving them up the national agenda.” Kline and his allies in Congress seem to be ready to pull the plug on an effort that is making a difference and could pay big dividends if given the right amount of time and resources.