Accelify Blog

California Weighs Longshot Bid for School Funds (CA)

April 26, 2010

After coming in 27th out of 40 states the first time, California would have an uphill climb to win up to $700 million in the next round for federal Race to the Top education funds – an effort state officials could decide this week is a losing battle.

Or California could ignore the odds and decide to go for it.

The governor and education leaders are expected to announce as early as Tuesday whether they’ll apply for the second round of federal school reform funding – a $4 billion pot to be spread among states that make the cut.

California failed to make it as a finalist in the first round, falling well shy of the points needed to get funding. Delaware and Tennessee were the only states that won first-round funding, receiving about 450 out of 500 possible points by coming up with plans with broad support to overhaul their school system.

California posted a final score of 336.8.

"There were some major gaps in our application," said David Richey, spokesman for Secretary of Education Bonnie Reiss. "The state and governor’s office are looking at all the pieces to see if it’s realistic for us to apply."

States have to declare their intent to apply by May 4 and file an application by June 1.

Indiana announced Thursday it would pull out of the race. Kansas dropped out a week earlier.

The judges in the Race to the Top dinged California for a lack of union support for the application. It was also denied points for failing to provide a longitudinal data system to measure student achievement and teacher or principal performance. It also was deficient in its focus on science, technology and math education.

"Although our Round 1 application outlined a credible plan for making systemic changes in California that would lead to improved student achievement and help close the achievement gap, our plan fared poorly in the first round of the competition," said state Department of Education spokeswoman Hilary McLean. "The question now is if we can push the reform envelope further and get enough district and stakeholder support to make a realistic run at winning in the second round."
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That doesn’t look likely.

The California Teachers Association, the state’s largest teachers union, declined to sign on to the last application and didn’t appear enthusiastic about another go.

"I think California has got to ask some serious questions about what’s best for the students of California and for education reform in this state … and stop chasing federal dollars," said CTA spokeswoman Becky Zoglman. "Education reform works best when teachers, parents and principals and community members come together and decide what’s best for that neighborhood school and the kids in that school."

State policymakers jumped through hoops in the fall and earlier this year to pass controversial legislation to make California more competitive in the race, including lifting a cap on the number of charter schools in the state and giving the state the ability to link teacher performance with student test scores.

Those efforts didn’t pay off as much as state officials hoped.

"I think many folks who put together some of the reform-oriented pieces of our application were surprised that the state wasn’t given credit for that," said Silver Giving Foundation President Phil Halperin, who worked with districts to encourage participation in the state’s original application. "If the state doesn’t apply, it’s likely because the political will among the stakeholders is not there to get it done given the budgetary climate."