California Snubbed On 'Race To The Top' School Cash - Again

California Snubbed On 'Race To The Top' School Cash - Again

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California has fallen short in its second and final bid to win a controversial federal Race to the Top school-reform grant.

The winners, confirmed last week by federal officials, are Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Rhode Island and the District of Columbia.

Had the state prevailed, participating California school systems stood to receive as much as $700 million. The Los Angeles Unified School District, the nation's second-largest school system, was in line for about $120 million.

The Obama administration created the competitive grant program to spur its vision of reform nationwide. A total of $3.4 billion was available.

In order to qualify for competition, the school districts had pledged to embrace controversial reforms such as linking teacher evaluations to standardized test scores and allowing poorly performing schools to be converted into independently run charters.

Officials said no one reason precluded a state from winning the funds, but a glaring shortcoming of California's application was its absence of union support, from local teachers unions to the two major state teacher unions. As a result, California lost some points with evaluators, but officials stressed that no single virtue or shortcoming would by itself determine the fate of an application. Critics have long argued that some states, including California, were too willing to trade the prospect of badly needed, one-time funding for policies that were academically unproven and that could prove prohibitively expensive over the long term.

California's plan focused on strategies favored by the Obama administration, such as placing the most effective educators in struggling schools and improving instruction through the improved use of data.

The state blueprint also embraced the federal endorsement of aggressive remedies, such as replacing the staff at a poorly performing school and converting it to an independently run charter school. Most charters schools are non-union, another arena of discomfort for teacher unions.

In the end, the number of high-quality applications overstretched the available funding, said department spokesman Justin Hamilton. As a result, a few deserving states had to go home empty-handed, he said.

Delaware and Tennessee already had prevailed in a first round, which concluded in March.


Meanwhile San Bernardino City Unified is awaiting word on the fate of a $57.6 million dollar federal (3 year) grant to turn around 11 low-performing schools.

Superintendent Arturo Delgado expressed frustration over a delay in the decision to fund the School Improvement Grants. The State Board of Education was scheduled to make a decision on the funding at a meeting earlier this month.

The action was delayed after officials from Los Angeles Unified, Oakland Unified and other large district complained about being left out of the School Improvement Grants bid.

“This is very frustrating,” said Delgado. “We’ve already began making much needed changes. This delay leaves the process up in the air.”

Reacting to California’s unsuccessful bid to receive Race to the Top funds, several San Bernardino school officials predicted an unprecedented feeding frenzy as financially starved large districts turn over every stone in search of money.

“It’s gonna get ugly,” said a local school official. “The Race to the Top decision is not only embarrassing but it will almost certainly unleash fierce competition among school districts already desperate for funds,” said the official who asked not to be identified. “Add to the problem, even if the district’s bid is successful, without a state budget no funds will flow,” the official said.