Obama pushes to add $1.35 billion to Race to the Top grants
President Obama on Tuesday proposed extending his Race to the Top education reform program another year. But some teacher's unions and school districts are fighting the reforms.
As more than 30 states scrambled to submit their Race to the Top applications Tuesday, President Obama proposed continuing the competitive education grant program next year, with an additional $1.35 billion.Skip to next paragraph
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Under his proposal, the administration would also open up the competition to individual districts. Currently, only states can apply.
Race to the Top has already given the federal government an unusually strong influence in state education priorities. Numerous states including California and Michigan have made significant reforms to make their applications more attractive and to align their policies with the federal education agenda – a development that Mr. Obama highlighted in making his announcement at Virginia’s Graham Road Elementary School.
“By rewarding some of these states submitting applications today, by extending the Race to the Top for states, by launching a Race to the Top among school districts, and by applying the principles of Race to the Top to other federal programs, we’ll build on this success,” he said.
Revolt in the districts
Still, it’s far from assured that Congress will approve his request. The federal deficit is ballooning.
Moreover, Race to the Top is running into opposition at the local level. Many districts and unions are showing signs of discontent, with a significant number refusing to support their state’s bid for a grant.
In Michigan and Florida, for instance, teachers unions have recommended that districts not sign onto the applications. And in California and other states, hundreds of districts have done just that, refusing to sign their state's Race to the Top application because of concern about the proposed reforms and possible strings attached to the money.
One of the most controversial reforms is recent legislation in California that would give students at the poorest performing schools the right to cross districts, and would give parents as such schools the right to demand changes.
The unanswered question, he says, is how this lack of solidarity will affect states’ applications: Will the money will go to the states with more ambitious applications but less unanimity, or will it go to states with weaker applications but more uniform support?
“There’s a big rift between reform leaders and reform opponents, and it just can’t be breached,” says Mr. Smarick. “Race to the Top didn’t cause this rift, but it’s really exposed it.”