Race to the Top Round Two Reflections

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Some initial observations about the 10 Race to the Top (RttT) round two winners (the District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, and Rhode Island) and the 2 round one winners (Delaware and Tennessee):

How the West Was Shunned

While there is a nice mix of very large states (the $700 million winners—Florida and New York), medium states, and small states (D.C. and Little Rhody), there is a surprising lack of geographic diversity, with no continental state west of the Mississippi River winning a grant. I’ve already seen some talk that rural states were at a disadvantage in this race, just as they are in many other grant competitions.

Who Inherits the Win?

Of all the winners, only Delaware and North Carolina do not have gubernatorial elections this fall. Of course, with 37 states electing governors this fall, the chances were high that most winning states would be in the midst of a campaign. Still, 10 of 12 is a pretty high proportion. Interestingly, only three governors in winning states are seeking reelection: Martin O’Malley in Maryland, Deval Patrick in Massachusetts, and Ted Strickland in Ohio.

Except Florida, every first- and second-round winner has at least one congressional member on either the House or Senate Education Committee.

DOE Darlings

Why am I not surprised that the two superintendents most closely associated with Secretary Duncan’s reform ideas—New York City schools chancellor Joel Klein and his protégé, D.C. schools chancellor Michelle Rhee—are going to be getting significant Race to the Top funds? Klein, as head of the largest district in New York by far, stands to receive $250–300 million in RttT funds, and Rhee will control the full RttT pot (up to $75 million) for single-district D.C.

Despite Our Differences

It is a bit odd that Hawaii won a grant, especially after it shortened its school year by 17 days last year to save money, a move that Secretary Duncan blasted at the time as “inconceivable.”

Along those same lines, the timing of the award to New York is unfortunate. The state is being recognized as a leader in education amidst a brewing controversy over revelations that the state’s tests had been made easier over the past several years to pump up its student proficiency rates and close the achievement gap. Late last month in a major policy address, Secretary Duncan decried such “race to the bottom” practices by states: “Many states lowered standards so poor children looked like they were doing better. That was an absolute tragedy for American education. This president and this administration will never acquiesce in a lie. Our first job is to tell parents and students the truth.”

Jersey Sure Got Snookered

In a cruel twist of irony, New Jersey did not win a RttT grant by the slimmest of margins (3 points) because of a clerical error for which it was docked five points for providing more current budget data (FY11) about the state’s education spending than required by the grant competition requirements (FY08–09).

Even more ironic, the RttT peer review panel gave the state nearly the full five points on New Jersey’s first-round application for its explanation of the state’s 4.7 percent decrease in nominal education appropriations (from $12.0B to $11.5B), while subsequently awarding no points for the second-round application’s description of the proposed FY11 “increase in state revenue-based support for education by 2.2% ($238 million).” In other words, the RttT review gave New Jersey’s applications more points for older, more disappointing budget information and penalized the state for more up-to-date, more positive spending figures. Go figure.

Robbing Peter to Pay Ohio

Finally, there is the issue of those “shaken and ashamed” at the recently enacted $10 billion emergency edujobs funding because of cuts to be made to increases in the food stamp program that will take effect in three years to help pay for it. Cuts to the food stamp program had to be made because many self-styled education reformers initially balked at the House-passed bill to cut $500 million from the RttT program to pay for the jobs money. Their objections prompted a veto threat by the White House. A letter signed by 13 Democratic senators calling the $500 million RttT cut “unacceptable” soon followed, along with a June 30 joint statement by groups like the Education Trust that the House plan would “quite literally swipe hundreds of millions of dollars in already-promised funding. It would quash efforts in communities around the country that are working tirelessly to improve their schools and ensure that all students—regardless of skin color or zip code—are well prepared for life after high school.”

Ohio was the last state to get a grant, worth $400 million. Combined with the $75 million in funds left remaining in the RttT pot after all of the awards have been disbursed, we can see more clearly now that the House-passed cut to the RttT program would not have negatively affected “efforts in communities around the country,” but only those in . . . Ohio. Was Ohio worth less money for food stamps? You’ll have to ask those non–Buckeye State advocates who opposed the original RttT cut, but it is a nevertheless sobering and abject lesson in being careful about what you wish for.

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