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Education Funding

California Lawmakers Racing Back for Race to the Top

By Alyson Klein — August 20, 2009 2 min read

If you live in California, you may have a front row seat for the most tense showdown in education policy this fall.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican, is calling a special session to make sure the state can get a slice of the $4.35 billion Race to the Top grant money.

As I’m sure you’ll recall, California, New York, and Wisconsin were basically eliminated from the competition at the starting gate because they have laws that prohibit linking student and teacher test score data.

Now it looks like Schwarzenegger is ready to scrap the law so that his state can get much needed funds. By early October, he wants to see legislation that would:

*Link student achievement and teacher performance data

*Repeal California’s charter school cap – which his statement calls “an unnecessary barrier to innovation”

*Expand public school choice

*Step up turnaround efforts at the 5 percent of schools in the state that consistently fail to meet benchmarks

*Give extra pay to “teachers who are consistently doing the toughest jobs. Alternative pay schedules highlight effective teaching practices and create incentives to improve our education system."(Hard to say whether that means merit pay or extra money for working with the neediest populations or in hard-to-staff subjects.)

*Change how the state uses data to measure student, teacher, and school performance. (The specifics on that should be interesting.)

Schwarzenegger may face an uphill battle. The California Teachers Association has been staunchly in favor of the law, because it doesn’t want to see student test-score data used as a factor in teacher evaluations. And it’ll be interesting to see the union’s reaction to some of the other proposals, such as alternative pay and lifting the cap on charters.

From Schwarzenegger’s statement, it looks like the political positioning has already begun. He’s using the Obama administration for political cover. That might help give his proposals a boost with the Democratically controlled legislature and with voters in one of the bluest states in the country.

Here’s a snippet from his statement:

I stand with President Obama and Secretary Duncan in pushing these education reforms not only to ensure California is eligible and competes for billions in Recovery education dollars, but because I believe they will help provide a better education for California’s children. California and its education system have felt the effects of the economic downturn and with every child in every classroom depending on us – I call on the legislature to ensure California leads the Race to the Top.

Lesli Maxwell, our resident California expert, said special sessions in the Golden State don’t happen often, so lawmakers tend to stay focused on the task at hand. They don’t have to abide by all the pesky rules and deadlines that govern regular sessions. And, perhaps most importantly, all legislation takes effect within 90 days, not by the end of the calendar year, as during a normal session.

I’m sure Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who has been bemoaning the state’s data “firewall” for months, and Rep. George Miller, the chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, a California lawmaker who has been very disparaging of his home state’s law, are high-fiving as we speak.

UPDATE: Miller put out a statement calling the move an “important step forward to push for real reform for every child in California and, if done correctly, to provide more transparency that will end the educational inequities and improve classrooms all across the state.”

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