Accelify Blog

Oklahoma Tries Again for Race to the Top Funding (OK)

June 3, 2010

Gov. Brad Henry on Tuesday signed the state’s second Race to the Top application, which described Oklahoma’s education reforms and the requested $175 million in funding as "a watershed for the Sooner State."

Thirty-five states and the District of Columbia applied for the second round of federal stimulus funds, pledging a number of education reforms in an attempt to persuade a panel of five reviewers that their reforms are the "boldest" and deserving of a share of $3.4 billion in federal stimulus funds.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said he expects 10 to 15 states will receive funding.

Tennessee and Delaware were awarded a combined $600 million in the first round, and 11 states decided not to reapply for the grant.

Oklahoma’s application begins by calling Senate Bill 2033 — approved in the final days of the legislative session — "the boldest, most comprehensive legislation in the nation" this year.

The new law created a mandatory annual teacher and principal evaluation system that uses student test scores and qualitative assessments to dismiss "ineffective" teachers after two years and reward highly effective teachers with bonuses.

Finalists will be announced in August with winners being notified in September.

Kathy Taylor, the governor’s chief education adviser, said the redrafted application and the new state laws will make Oklahoma a serious contender in this round.

Taylor said Oklahoma’s applica tion received broad support across the state. Republicans and Democrats rallied in support of SB 2033, the state’s largest teachers unions are on board with the application, and 82 percent of the state’s students are in school districts that agreed to participate.

Still, not everyone was thrilled with Oklahoma’s decision to participate.

Rep. Sally Kern, R-Oklahoma City, led opposition to the teacher evaluation bill that was defeated in the House on May 26 only to be approved the next day without any revision.

"It does fly in the face of conservative principles, which are limited government and local control," Kern said.

"We are turning more control over to the federal government because Race to the Top standards have to be followed to the word."

Kern said she was particularly opposed to the adoption of a set of national education standards known as Common Core that she maintains would lower Oklahoma’s academic standards.

Her opposition to the application and the state’s new law echo opposition from governors of a number of states, including Texas and Virginia, that declined to apply for the federal funding.

Rep. Ann Coody, a former teacher, said regardless of whether the state is awarded funding, the reforms were essential for the future of education in Oklahoma.

"These were our goals long before we thought about Race to the Top," said Coody, R-Lawton. "These are goals for children."

A Race to the Top Committee will be formed to develop the teacher evaluation system, using a five-tier scale to j udge both teachers’ and administrators’ performance. Teachers receiving the lowest score of "ineffective" for two consecutive years will be terminated under the law, while school districts will draft plans to reward teachers who are succeeding.

If the state receives the grant, $23 million will help fund the teacher evaluation system.

Taylor said the backbone of the application is a data system that will track a student from prekindergarten programs through college. That data will be used as a portion of teacher evaluations.

The remaining funding will be distributed as follows:

— $18.6 million to the state’s 20 lowest performing schools.

— $17 million to develop assessment for the Common Core Curriculum Standards.

— $15.3 million to contract with an outside vendor to create a student data system and training for teachers with the system.

— $8.7 million toward completing the state’s student data system that follows academic growth from prekindergarten through college.

— $2 million for professional development for teachers and principals.

— $1.6 million for management of the Race to the Top program.

— $87.5 million directly to school districts through grants based on reforms.