Education Funding

Richard M. Daley: Stop Race to the Top

By Sean Cavanagh — September 16, 2010 2 min read
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The Obama adminstration’s Race to the Top competition has drawn a mix of plaudits and catcalls from both Democrats and Republicans around the country, reaction that in some ways can be traced to how their states fared in the multimillion dollar school competition.

Now one of the best-known Democrats in the country, Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley, is ripping the awards process, saying it was unfair to his state, and by extension, his city.

“We should end it. We should end it,” said Daley, who recently announced he would not run for re-election, according to the Chicago Tribune.

Race to the Top created a competition among states for $4 billion in federal funding, which they could earn a piece of by promising to take bold steps to improve schools. Illinois was a finalist for funding in Round 2 of the competition, but placed 15th out of 19 contenders. The Obama administration has argued that the law is producing dramatic changes in education polices. At least 34 states have passed laws and policies “to improve education” as a result of the competition, the administration asserts.

Daley did not seem impressed. “They are just political slogans,” he said.

His honor, speaking at a ribbon-cutting ceremony on the north side of Chicago, suggested that the state had not been given credit for its work improving schools, including its efforts in his city.

“Isn’t that silly?” Daley said. “Not allow somebody who has reorganized schools, rebuilt schools and the things we do here, but we could not make that presentation? Again, it’s called federal bureaucracy. That’s all it’s about: bureaucracy.”

Daley’s remarks will no doubt surprise some observers, given his storied status within the Democratic party. Daley has served as mayor since 1989. His father, the late Richard J. Daley, ran the city as mayor for more than two decades from the 1950s through the 1970s. The son also has strong ties to the Obama adminstration: Arne Duncan, the president’s education secretary, who is overseeing Race to the Top, served as Daley’s school chief before moving to Washington. And Chicago is President Obama’s adopted hometown.

The mayor’s remarks are a reminder on how the flow of federal education money to the states has produced some surprising political dynamics, which don’t break down along party lines. Some Democrats have questioned why their state didn’t do better in RTTT, while some Republicans have supported the program, including the incentives it creates for merit pay and charter schools. I’ll be exploring how some of those issues are playing out in state elections in an upcoming story in EdWeek.

UPDATE: Here’s the story.

Photo credit: M. Spencer Green/AP

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