In discussing Race to the Top with reporters via conference call today, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan gave the standard “everyone was a winner” speech.
But not everyone was a winner.
In this second round, 35 states and Washington, D.C., applied for the $3.4 billion in grants and 10 won, based on points assigned by a panel of experts.
Georgia ranked 8th in points, a big drop from Round 1 where the state ranked third, but still high enough to win $400 million.
This is where Race to the Top gets interesting. Georgia is about to elect a new governor and a new school chief. GOP school chief candidate John Barge is not a fan of Race to the Top or of federal involvement in education.
On this blog, he said, “I believe that, constitutionally, the federal government has no role in education. It is best administered by state and local elected officials and by education professionals closest to our schools and our classrooms. In my view, the amount of money we could receive from Race to the Top does not justify yet more federal government intrusion and bureaucratic micromanagement of our local schools. However, other policy leaders believe differently.”
One policy maker who didn’t feel differently — at least for 15 minutes — was GOP gubernatorial candidate Nathan Deal. At a public event earlier this month, Deal came out against Race to the Top, and then did an almost immediate reversal.
“Race to the Top has standardized curriculum,” said Deal. “I do not agree with anything that has strings attached. I would say it’s probably not worth the money we’re going to receive. In the overall scheme of things it’s not that much money. It sounds big but when you distribute it across every level of the education system, it’s not that big.”
Then, a few hours later, Deal’s office issued a statement: “He is not going to return the money. That program will already be in place when he takes office.”
And Georgia’s Race to the Top grant will be in place. But will it stay in place?
I asked Duncan how he felt about giving a $400 million federal grant to a state that could possibly have a school chief and governor who don’t believe feds should play a role in schools.
“This was Georgia’s plan,” said Duncan. “This is bigger than any governor or any school chief. Hundreds and hundreds of individuals put in a huge amount of hours and came up with great plan. This wasn’t about any one person. And we are holding every state accountable and will follow their progress. If any state does not implement well, we will simply stop funding them. If a state decides this not what they want to do, we will challenge it. But I have every confidence that Georgia will do a great job and take student achievement to another level.”
I asked the three candidates for school chief for statements on Georgia’s victory in Race to the Top.
Here is what Libertarian Kira Willis, who opposed RTTT, said:
Although I have been against receiving RT3 funds, we now must face the fact that they are here for four years. It is not a lot of money (one percent of our budget), but here’s what we can do with it: we can use it to fund innovation in education. I will vehemently and actively oppose any “created positions” that take more funds from our schools and from our kids. The last thing we need is to put another tier into the GADOE or into the local counties of Georgia.
Most of us who have been in education know that alternative tracks toward graduation is not a new concept, but it is a concept that we can sink our teeth into and give more students more opportunities for success. As State School Superintendent, my plan will be to afford local counties the freedom to give their students more avenues toward graduation. I will encourage them to find ways to ensure academic success for all of their students, not just the ones who plan on attending university. This could include an agricultural school, a computer technical track, a culinary arts track, or an arts diploma. True innovation in education means meeting the needs of each individual student. Innovation also means implementing real school choice for our children by opening more charter schools or simply allowing students to attend any school that they wish to attend.
As our RT3 application states, we will promote innovation. Local counties will have the ability to take the invitation to be creative and run with it. I will not create more administrative positions at the state and county levels.
When the money runs out, and it will, the schools that are successful with their improvements will have my recommendation to continue with their programs. This will help us to analyze how we can even further advance education for our children without keeping positions that will no longer be funded by the Race to the Top Grant.
Here is what GOP candidate John Barge said:
I congratulate the Governor, his staff, the former Superintendent and the current School Superintendent for this hard fought victory. They put a lot of hard work into this grant application and they deserve a great deal of credit for all they do to help our children and our schools.
As I have said in the past, if elected, I will faithfully administer the programs and policies set by the Governor and the General Assembly and look forward to doing so if I am chosen to be our next School Superintendent.
One of the many positive outcomes of today’s announcement is that my Democrat opponent can no longer hide behind this distraction. He has consistently brought up this moot issue, that is now resolved, to divert attention away from the simple fact that he is not qualified for this office and cannot even be hired as a classroom teacher in any public school in Georgia.
And here is what Democratic candidate for school chief Joe Martin had to say:
I congratulate the people at the state who have worked so hard to obtain this grant. We need all the help we can get.
However, this grant is only a Band-aid for the huge cuts in State funding to our schools in recent years. It amounts to $100 million per year for four years, while the funding of our schools has been cut by over $1 billion in the current year alone.
Some adjustments will have to be made over time. The application includes a detailed compensation plan for all educators, which is tied to standardized tests. Any evaluation must include student performance, but the measures must be broader than scores on standardized tests.