Idaho Says No to Next Round of Race to Top

By Sean Cavanagh — September 22, 2011 1 min read
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Count Idaho as one of the states that won’t take part in the new Race to the Top early learning competition, after both the governor and schools chief voiced concerns about the program bringing long-term costs to the state.

Tom Luna, the state’s superintendent of public instruction, is recommending that the state not apply for the competition. Luna’s office is one of four entitites in Idaho—along with the governor’s office, the Department of Health and Welfare, and the State Board of Education—that would have to be involved for the state to submit a bid, education department spokeswoman Melissa McGrath said.

Luna has promoted an ambitious education agenda in Idaho this year, which included the passage of a major technology initiative and changes to how teachers are evaluated and the job protections they receive.

Idaho would have stood to win up to $50 million through the competition. But Luna is worried that because Idaho does not have a state-funded preschool program, taking part in the Race to the Top early learning program could force the state to “expand our public education system with one-time federal funding,” McGrath explained, with no plan to sustain the program after the money is gone.

Luna also believes the state legislature must create a comprehensive statewide policy for early childhood education before Idaho considers expanding its existing system with a federal grant, she added.

Idaho’s governor, C.L. “Butch” Otter, agrees. He worries about sustaining the programs created by the Race to the Top grant, and that it could detract from the state’s ability to pay for other parts of Idaho’s education agenda, approved by lawmakers this year, said Mark Warbis, an adviser to the governor.

“How will this one-time funding affect our general fund when the funds expire?” Warbis said an e-mail. “Will the grant application or the grant itself demand statutory changes? Would the State Board of Education support the grant? Will necessary resources be diverted away from the Department of Education’s own efforts to implement our Students Come First reforms?”

A version of this news article first appeared in the State EdWatch blog.