Special Report
Federal

Ariz. Vaults From 40th to Finalist in Race to Top

By Liz Willen, The Hechinger Report — July 29, 2010 3 min read

Ann-Eve Pedersen of the Arizona Education Network says she can think of just one reason the economically depressed state was a surprise finalist in the second round of the $4 billion Race to the Top competition, after finishing 40th out of 41 competitors in the first round in March.

“Maybe the federal government has taken pity on the state of education funding here,” said Ms. Pedersen, president of the nonprofit, nonpartisan group, which advocates for improved education funding. Arizona has faced four consecutive years of budget shortfalls and ranks 49th in per-pupil spending, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Arizona received the news that it had bested 17 states and could be eligible for between $150 million and $250 million in federal stimulus funding when U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced the 19 second-round finalists in the federal competition on Tuesday.

Republican Gov. Jan Brewer called her state’s turnaround “a very significant and important milestone in Arizona’s comeback. … After scoring so low in the first round, we did not give up—instead we pushed even harder for the education reforms we know are critical regardless of federal funding.”

The state’s efforts to secure federal help underscore its dire need for cash and a willingness to do whatever it takes to get it at a time when full-day kindergarten has been cut, hundreds of teachers have been laid off, and early childhood education programs are in danger.

“Our schools are in desperate need of additional funding, and even though it comes with a lot of strings attached, we will take any funds we can get,” Ms. Pedersen said.

A Story of Reform

The story of Arizona’s new status as a reform-oriented finalist can be found in the state’s application, put together by WestEd, a nonprofit agency that works at the local, state, and federal levels to develop research-based programs and strategies. Paul Koehler, director of the Policy Center at the WestEd base in Phoenix, recalls getting a call from Gov. Brewer after the state’s first-round application fell short in March. The state had amassed just 240 points out of a possible 500, and she wanted help.

“I think there was some collective embarrassment at ending up in 40th [ahead of only] South Dakota,” Mr. Koehler said in an interview with The Hechinger Report on Tuesday. “So we tried to take a good look at what the application required and really build a story around reform in this state, around the quality of educators and how they manage with so little money. Everyone was motivated to help.”

By May, state lawmakers had passed a set of education reforms, and Mr. Koehler said the state teachers’ union got on board to support the second-round application. The Arizona Education Association, an affiliate of the National Education Association, has expressed reservations and skepticism about the Race to the Top competition.

“They eventually saw the reason to get involved if the state has a chance to win, and they really stepped it up and talked to their members,” Mr. Koehler said.

Arizona’s application portrays the state as one that has embraced reform in some areas, such as an open enrollment policy and its leadership in establishing charter schools. It lays out a reform agenda for the rapidly growing state, which ranks second in the U.S. for the percentage increase in public school enrollment.

Arizona’s Challenges

The application points out that Arizona has unique challenges: 98 percent of the state is classified as rural, and it has the largest Native American population of any state. It also has the toughest law on illegal immigration, which many believe is fueling an exodus of Hispanics from its communities—and its schools.

Mr. Koehler said he prefers to look ahead and hopes the state will ultimately succeed when the Race to the Top finalists are announced in September. The U.S. Department of Education has $3.4 billion remaining in the competitive grant program after awarding $600 million to Delaware and Tennessee in round one. How many states come out winners in round two will depend on the size of the individual grants the department decides to award.

“Because of the conventional wisdom, I didn’t think we had a chance,” Mr. Koehler said. “I think the second-round application motivated a lot of the education stakeholders to come together.”

A version of this article appeared in the August 11, 2010 edition of Education Week

Events

School & District Management Live Event EdWeek Leadership Symposium
Education Week's Premier Leadership Event for K12 School & District Leaders.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Law & Courts Webinar
The Future of Criminal Justice Reform: A Sphere Education Initiative Conversation
America’s criminal justice system is in crisis and calls for reform are dominating the national debate. Join Cato’s Sphere Education Initiative and Education Week for a webinar on criminal justice and policing featuring the nation’s
Content provided by Cato Institute
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
Equity, Care and Connection: New SEL Tools and Practices to Support Students and Adults
As school districts plan to welcome students back into buildings for the upcoming school year, this is the perfect time to take a hard look at both our practices and our systems to build a
Content provided by Panorama Education

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Federal Biden Taps Ex-Obama Aide Roberto Rodriguez for Key Education Department Job
Rodriguez served as a top education staffer to President Barack Obama and currently leads a teacher-advocacy organization.
3 min read
BRIC ARCHIVE
Getty
Federal Biden Pitches Plan to Expand Universal Pre-K, Free School Meal Programs, Teacher Training
The president's $1.8 trillion American Families Plan faces strong headwinds as Congress considers other costly administration proposals.
8 min read
President Joe Biden addresses Congress from the House chamber. Behind him are Vice President Kamala Harris and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.
President Joe Biden addresses a joint session of Congress Wednesday night, as Vice President Kamala Harris, left, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., applaud.<br/>
Chip Somodevilla/AP
Federal Education Department Kicks Off Summer Learning Collaborative
The Summer Learning and Enrichment Collaborative will boost programs for students acutely affected by COVID-19 in 46 states.
2 min read
Education Secretary Miguel Cardona, left, talks with Fort LeBoeuf Middle School teacher Laura Friedman during a discussion on safely returning to schools during the COVID-19 pandemic on March 3, 2021.
Education Secretary Miguel Cardona, left, talks with Fort LeBoeuf Middle School teacher Laura Friedman during a discussion on safely returning to schools during the COVID-19 pandemic in March.
Greg Wohlford/Erie Times-News via TNS
Federal As 100-Day Mark Approaches, Has Biden Met His School Reopening Goal? And What Comes Next?
President Joe Biden faces a self-imposed deadline of having most K-8 schools open for in-person learning by his hundredth day in office.
6 min read
First Lady Jill Biden and Education Secretary Miguel Cardona tour Benjamin Franklin Elementary School, in Meriden, Ct., on March 3, 2021.
First lady Jill Biden and U.S. Secretary of Education Secretary Miguel Cardona tour Benjamin Franklin Elementary School, in Meriden, Ct., in March.
Mandel Ngan/AP