Louisiana Says No to Race to Top, and Senator Isn’t Happy

By Sean Cavanagh — October 21, 2011 2 min read
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One of the states that opted not to apply for the Race to the Top early-learning competition was Louisiana, and that decision has drawn the wrath of U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu.

In a letter to Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal, the senator, a Democrat, said she was “disappointed and concerned” that the state would not seek money through the $500 million competition, which has drawn applications from 35 states.

“I hope you will provide a detailed explanation as to how the administration failed to even submit an application,” Landrieu wrote on Oct. 19. “Your decision not to even compete for these funds is one that will have a negative impact on thousands of children in our state. I hope your reasons for failing to apply for these funds are strong enough to justify these consequences.”

Louisiana would have stood to gain up to $60 million had it won a Race to the Top award. Ed Week readers will remember that the state competed for, but did not win, an award in the earlier rounds of the competition—to the surprise of some observers.

Landrieu said that early-childhood experts from around the state had spent “several months working to complete an application” and wondered why one wasn’t submitted.

Kyle Plotkin, a spokesman for Jindal, said that a number of state agencies, including the Department of Children and Families, studied the grant and determined that it was the “exact opposite approach our state should take to help our kids.”

The governor believes the grant amounted to one-time aid that would not result in sustainable services for children, he added.

“We need to streamline the governance structure, funding streams, and quality standards in our early childhood system—and the grant would only make things worse by reducing flexibility and adding more micromanagement and regulatory obstacles,” Plotkin said in a statement. “We want less red tape, not more.”

The announcement that the state would not apply for the grant was made by the DCFS, and its secretary, Ruth Johnson, a Jindal appointee.

Johnson said Louisiana is already in the process of streamlining the state’s early-childhood programs, and that Race to the Top would only add “more of the same—more micromanagement, more regulation, and less flexibility.”

In particular, the secretary questioned the program’s approach to raising the qualifications of early-childhood educators, which she described as onerous and not grounded in research.

“This grant has strings attached that will force more state and federal control on our education system,” said Johnson.

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