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Will Race to Top Winners Help Advance Legislative Priorities?

By Alyson Klein — August 31, 2010 2 min read
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Back before the Race to the Top Round One winners were announced, I wondered whether the Education Department would select winners from states with influential members of Congress, who might be able to help U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan move his agenda.

Of course, the selection process was set up in a way intended to assure that political influence was not a factor in determining who actually won—no state got extra points for being the home of a powerful member of Congress.

But politics could be part of the fallout, including the question of whether the Race to the Top program gets extended for another year and ultimately is authorized under the new version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. (There’s money in two spending bills right now for it to continue for another year.)

In Round One, the winning states also happened to be home to two key Republicans in Congress, Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, and Rep. Mike Castle of Delaware.

But in Round Two, things might not have worked quite so well. For instance, one of the winners—the District of Columbia—doesn’t even get a vote on the floor of the House of Representatives, much less the Senate.

Still, one of the grantees—New York—does have a huge, and therefore influential, delegation, including Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y. who could well end up serving as Majority Leader if Sen. Harry M. Reid loses his reelection bid. Ohio and Florida also represent big voting blocks. (Ohio is also home to Rep. John A. Boehner, a Republican and the House Minority Leader, who could even be the next House Speaker if Republicans retake control of that chamber.)

Possibly the best pick, from a get-stuff-through-Congress standpoint? Hawaii, which is home to Sen. Daniel Inouye, a Democrat who heads up the uber-powerful Appropriations Committee.

Of course, there also some influential—and miffed—losers. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., who sits on the committee that doles out money to the U.S. Department of Education, was pretty upset that her state of Louisiana didn’t get tapped for a grant in Round One. And she is just as annoyed this time, according to this statement.

And a few months back, Rep. Rosa DeLauro, a Democrat from Connecticut, who is line to oversee the House subcommittee on education spending was irritated that the Nutmeg State didn’t even make the finals. Not sure what that will mean about her willingness to increase and extend funding for the program down the line.

So ... will lawmakers from the winning states help keep the program going? Or is it more likely that the losers (and others) might decide to monkey with the rules for the competition?