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
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

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

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
Curriculum Webinar
Strategies for Incorporating SEL into Curriculum
Empower students to thrive. Learn how to integrate powerful social-emotional learning (SEL) strategies into the classroom.
Content provided by Be GLAD
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
School & District Management Webinar
Leadership in Education: Building Collaborative Teams and Driving Innovation
Learn strategies to build strong teams, foster innovation, & drive student success.
Content provided by Follett Learning
School & District Management K-12 Essentials Forum Principals, Lead Stronger in the New School Year
Join this free virtual event for a deep dive on the skills and motivation you need to put your best foot forward in the new year.

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 Social Media Should Come With a Warning, Says U.S. Surgeon General
A surgeon general's warning label would alert users that “social media is associated with significant mental health harms in adolescents.”
4 min read
Image of social media icons and warning label.
iStock + Education Week
Federal Classroom Tech Outpaces Research. Why That's a Problem
Experts call for better alignment between research and the classroom in Capitol Hill discussions.
4 min read
People walk outside the U.S Capitol building in Washington, June 9, 2022.
People walk outside the U.S Capitol building in Washington, June 9, 2022. Experts called for investments in education research and development at a symposium at the Dirksen Senate Office Building on June 13.
Patrick Semansky/AP
Federal Opinion Federal Education Reform Has Largely Failed. Unfortunately, We Still Need It
Neither NCLB nor ESSA have lived up to their promise, but the problems calling for national action persist.
Jack Jennings
4 min read
Red, Blue, and Purple colors over a fine line etching of the Capitol building. Republicans and Democrats, Partisan Politicians.
Douglas Rissing/iStock
Federal A More Complete Picture of Immigration's Impact on U.S. Public Schools
House Republicans say a migrant influx has caused "chaos" in K-12 schools. The reality is more complicated.
10 min read
Parents and community members rally outside P.S. 189 to protest New York City Mayor Eric Adam's plan to temporarily house immigrants in the school's gymnasium, seen in the background on May 16, 2023, in New York.
Parents and community members rally outside P.S. 189 to protest New York City Mayor Eric Adam's plan to temporarily house immigrants in the school's gymnasium, seen in the background on May 16, 2023, in New York.
John Minchillo/AP