Published Online: April 21, 2010

W.Va. Gov. Seeks More on Race to the Top Proposals

Gov. Joe Manchin wants more details from state school officials before he decides what to propose during an upcoming special legislative session on education issues, his spokesman said Tuesday.

The state Board of Education sent Manchin 28 recommended changes to state school policy, in response to his demands for ways to win the next batch of federal Race to the Top funding.

West Virginia placed 36th out of 41 applicants during the first found of the competitive grant program. Facing a June 1 deadline to apply again, Manchin plans to call the Legislature into session next month to pass measures that improve the state's chances.

Spokesman Matt Turner said the governor phoned board President Priscilla Haden and state Superintendent Steve Paine once he received the Tuesday report, to press them to flesh out its proposals.

"He's pleased with what he's hearing," Turner said. "But he wants more on what they're prepared to move forward with. What came out this morning didn't offer enough in the way of details."

Turner said Manchin expects a follow-up report by Wednesday. With up to $70 million at stake, the governor hopes for "fairly significant" and "dramatic" measures to present to lawmakers during a special session, Turner said.

Race to the Top aims to encourage states to pursue innovative ways to boost student achievement. The 28 proposals include five the board deemed crucial for the second round application. These would offer incentives to reward high performing teachers, rate educators by student achievement, experiment with new routes for certifying teachers, change the process for removing administrators and move the state closer toward allowing charter schools.

Race to the Top scores applicants in six categories, and West Virginia fared worst when it came to policies meant to evaluate, improve and support teachers and principals. Among the 18 criteria within those categories, the state lost the most points for now allowing charter schools.

Charter schools rely on public funds but operate independently, and can compete with regular schools for students and per-pupil aid. Tuesday's related proposal would build on the Innovation Zone program, which awards those that qualify with greater control over their curriculum, schedule and staffing.

Paine told The Associated Press on Tuesday that this recommended change would add budget-setting to the mix and allow schools to apply for charters that would hinge on performance standards.

Lawmakers considered but did not pass versions of four of those top five proposals during their recent regular session, Paine said. Other proposals would revise teacher hiring practices and seek to eliminate dropouts.

Paine said the board's overall goal is to bolster the state's second bid at the federal funding, while also advancing its recently launched Global 21 learning plan.

"We've recognized the need to raise the bar, raise the rigor, incorporate more complex skills into what we teach kids, and what we expect them to learn," Paine said. "The bottom line is, let's not compromise that long-term vision for the sake of a simple Race to the Top grant, which could be very helpful."

Paine also noted that the proposals came after focus groups, online surveys and interviews with every group involved in West Virginia schools: from students, teachers and principals to parents, legislators and the business community.

"I feel that I have a responsibility to move an agenda forward that moves us in a favorable way," Paine said. "But I also have an obligation to bring the community together around concepts."

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