Race to the Top: Billions in Education Funding At Stake
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On July 24, President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan introduced a milestone program named Race to the Top, a $4.35 billion fund that sits on the table for the taking from states who can—if they want—submit applications and propose innovative programs for K-12 public schools. The goal is simple: Make a difference in the future of America's education with creative and forward thinking programs that focuses on improving schools and student performance.
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, one of the two huge teachers unions in the country, said Race to the Top has a tremendous upside. "If it's done right, it can promote innovation and promote promising ideas and it can be very, very good," she said.
Race to the Top comes in on top of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, approved earlier this year, which earmarked nearly $100 billion for education purposes. It's one of the largest pools of discretionary money ever given out by the Department of Education. In fact, Duncan said the Race to the Top fund is larger than the total discretionary dollars available to every other Education Secretary since the post was created in 1980.
Obama and Duncan say politics will not play a role in what state gets some of the money, and are clear to emphasize that some states won't win any money at all. Duncan described the competition among the states for RTTP as "a once-in-lifetime opportunity for the federal government to create incentives for far-reaching improvement in our nation's schools."
So far, the states have had a chance to digest and then comment on the proposed rules. After the possibility of some revisions to RTTP based on those comments, the deadline for the first round of grants is expected sometime in December, with a second round expected to begin sometime in early 2010.
In order to apply for this program—and it has been estimated a complete application could take as long as nearly 28 full days of around-the-clock work—states are required to prominently feature in their grant proposals the four so-called assurances that are the heart of Race to the Top:
- Implement standards and assessments to make kids college- or career-ready
- Put in place data systems to track student performance, particularly back to teachers
- Take the steps necessary to improve teachers and leaders
- Take action to turn around struggling schools
Is There Room for Parents in Race to the Top?
This may sound like one of those federal programs that are barely comprehensible, much less something that parents, teachers or school administrators can impact. But experts across the country insist just the opposite is true. Parents can, and should, be involved in Race to the Top.
Weingarten put it this way: "Our hope is that teachers and parents are included in the process, that their ideas be included. Every state has to put a grant in and parents are a key part of the education community and parents' ideas should be a key part of every state's application."