Imagine that you are a state education official who has spent months and months on Race to the Top, coaxing districts to sign memorandums of understanding and negotiating with union officials, tracking down data, and convincing the Gates Foundation to give you some planning money.
Would you be irked that some folks in Congress want to make the pot smaller, potentially meaning fewer winners in the grant competition?
Of course, the plan puts states in a bind. Many really want to see the $10 billion in funding to prevent teacher layoffs (and, folks could argue, states wouldn’t need the money for educators so desperately if they hadn’t played shell-games with the funding made available under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act).
Still, some state officials have come out against the Race to the Top cut. Eric J. Smith, Florida’s education commissioner, for one. His state was a finalist and ultimately placed fourth in the competition:
Florida has a rich history of education reform that has produced significant academic progress for our students over the last decade. In many respects we have been ahead of the curve in making the kinds of meaningful changes that are necessary to bring educational success to every child and Race to the Top represents a monumental opportunity to accelerate our efforts. Should Congress pass such a measure, they would severely weaken the ability of Race to the Top to enact the changes our country's education system so desperately needs."
And this is from Paul G. Pastorek, state superintendent of education in Louisiana, another finalist, which placed 11th:
The Race to the Top program is designed to move states beyond the political and financial barriers that have historically prevented meaningful education reform. Reducing Race to the Top funding would be an affront to the states and districts who have at great risk enacted legislative and policy changes designed to dramatically improve student outcomes. Shifting money mid-course will change the direction of the national reform agenda and will confuse and discourage those who committed to bold change."
Oklahoma’s Race to the Top guru, Kathy Taylor said her state would be “very disappointed if RTTT funds were cut after the collaborative work our state produced to put together the application.” But she added, “We can’t control that, and we will continue to advocate for the full amount of the grant for which we applied.”
Oklahoma placed 34th in the first round, but recently made some big changes that could boost its chances in the second round.
Finally, Elizabeth Carpentier, the deputy state superintendent in South Carolina, which placed sixth, sent me an e-mail saying her state was willing to commit scarce resources to its second-round bid in part because there was so much money left over in the fund.
And she said:
I also think that the country needs a 'critical mass' of states working on these reforms if we are going to get the incredibly hard work done—common core standards, related assessments and materials, effectiveness measures, amendments to evaluation and employment decision procedures, measuring grades/subjects without accountability testing—it's going to take more than one state to get these systems up and running effectively. Reducing the funding pool reduces the number of awards and makes overall success with key reforms less likely, in my opinion."