California denied Race to the Top funding for third time


Photo by Sean MacEntee

Photo by Sean MacEntee

For the third time, California has failed in its bid to secure even a small slice of the $4.3 billion Race To the Top federal education fund. This time the U.S. Department of Education summarily rejected the state’s application just one day after receiving it, saying it was “incomplete.”

The application was made on behalf of seven school districts that had formed a consortium titled California Office to Reform Education, or CORE. The districts are Los Angeles, Long Beach, Fresno, Sanger, Clovis, San Francisco, and Sacramento City.

At the heart of the conflict was Gov. Jerry Brown’s refusal to sign the cover sheet of the first phase of the application, apparently because he was reluctant to commit the state to a series of requirements imposed by the Obama administration, such as tying teacher evaluations to test scores of their students and longitudinal tracking of student performance.

“The governor’s refusal to allow districts who want to do the work at a time when public schools’ budgets are getting cut is just unfathomable,” said Hilary McLean, communications director for the CORE consortium.

The Department of Education’s rejection reflects an elevation of the tension between California and Washington over the requirements imposed by the Obama administration for receipt of these and other federal education funds, as well as for qualifying for a waiver from some of the most onerous requirements of the No Child Left Behind law. California has yet to apply for that waiver, and may well not do so.

It also represented a setback for those promoting science and math education. The guidelines for this third round of funding required that “a meaningful share of the award be spent to advance science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education in the state.”

Neither the U.S. Department of Education nor Gov. Brown’s press office responded to a request for a comment on Thanksgiving eve. In a joint statement, Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson said he was “disappointed” with the outcome, and Michael Kirst, president of the State Board of Education, defended California’s proposal as “unique in the federal competition” because “it did not rely on centralized top-down state policies or mandates.”

Just two days ago, Brown, Torlakson and Kirst sent a letter to U.S. Secretary Arne Duncan indicating the state’s support for the CORE districts’ application. California, they wrote, “remains committed” to the requirements demanded by the Obama administration for Race to the Top funds and agreed to by the Legislature two years ago.

But in the same paragraph they told Duncan that the state “cannot afford to implement these reforms statewide, nor can it compel local education agencies (school districts) to implement them.”  But they indicated that the seven CORE districts that submitted the proposal would do so.

That statement reflected the reality that at least some of the changes demanded by Washington would have to be negotiated with teachers’ and other unions — one district at a time.

In Duncan’s eyes, the letter from Brown, Torlakson, and Kirst apparently did not represent an adequate replacement for the governor’s signature on the cover sheet of the application, as spelled out in the regulations in the Federal Register.

That set off what McLean called several days of “shuttle diplomacy,” at least via telephone and electronically. Kirst reportedly talked to Duncan to try to resolve the differences between the Brown and Obama administration on the issue.

What especially frustrated backers of the application is that California was all but assured of getting the funds. Only finalists in earlier rounds of the Race to the Top competition but had not received any funds were eligible to apply: Arizona, California, Colorado, Illinois, Kentucky Louisiana, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.

A document issued last month by the U.S. Department of Education listed the amounts each state could expect. California’s share was listed as $49 million. “Almost $50 million had California’s name on it,” said McLean.

“The money was ours for the asking,” echoed Fresno Unified Superintendent Michael Hanson in comments to the Fresno Bee. “One million students were left out in the cold, and it didn’t have to be this way.”

Gov. Brown clearly had a different view.

Read California’s letter to U.S. Secretary Arne Duncan.

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5 Responses to “California denied Race to the Top funding for third time”

  1. Anon said

    on November 24, 2011 at 12:33 pm

    Great account of what transpired over the past week. Just one small correction: San Diego USD is one of the state’s largest school districts, but is not part of CORE.

  2. Salmacis said

    on November 24, 2011 at 1:10 pm

    If someone offered you cash to build a home in an area that was known to be severely toxic, is it really a true offer ? Is there really guilt or blame to be attached to the person who declines ? Race to the Top keys on the fantasy that the value of a teacher to a child, a school, or a community, can be measured solely via standardised test scores. The fault here is not with Sacramento, it is with faux progressives (Obama, Duncan et al) who continue to drive this pernicious and divisive business model of education. Actually, check that – fault here also lies with Brown for not clearly verbalising his position, and the toxicity of the Washington offer.

  3. magdalena de guzman said

    on November 26, 2011 at 11:41 am

    Although California lacks the funding despite the fact that many billionaires and millionares reside in our beloved and beautiful sate, Governor Brown and our Superintendet of Public Instruction did very well to defend our public educaiton. It is important to not fall into a trap that President Obama and Duncan has set for us. Their end goal is to turn all public schools into charter schools. Initially, the emphasis was for the foundation money and public money to conjoin and create charter schools for public schools in the cities that are ravaged by economic and political conditions that continually disempower people of color. However, many more charters are now created in rich neighborhoods. They are getting public money, their own money and foundation money. Is this the kind of country we want to live in? The rich, upper middle class is not satisfied that they live in a rich enclave already with public schools in that enclave. They have to create they own charter schools. I think there should be a law to restrict the use of public money in charter schools that are created in affluent districts. The governor and the superintendet of public instruction did the right thing to refuse to sign on the document that will allow includes evaluating teachers performance based on the test scores of the students. We all know that a big percentage of the success of the students also depend on their readiness to tackle the curriculum. If they are emotionally and psychologically stressed out because their parents are experience trauma from racism, sexism, poverty, foreclosures, deep indebtedness, homelessness… and the list goes on, the teacher can only do so much. It’s important for the public school teachers to start where the kids are at, and because the background of so many of our kids reflect the tatteredness of our country, the teachers can not teach the curriculum no matter how ready the teachers are. The kids need to be nurtured through restorative practices, for example. Unfortunately, Obama and Duncan are TEST osterom DRIVEN. They just don’t understand. Good for California. What is $49 million dollars if the exchange is to lose the teachers’ rights to teach well.

  4. C. Maloney said

    on December 28, 2011 at 5:28 pm

    Insanity appears to be systemic in this Federal program and its consequences if accepted. “Race to the top” like “No child left behind” is the most insidious example of wordsmithing yet to be conceived by either the Democrats or Republicans. Teachers are being slandered daily by this legislation designed to dismantle our public education system in favor of what we all know will be a short lived privatization attempt at embezzling funds for profit by “flash in the pan” educational charlatans. The success of the saving and loan debacle scheme followed by the stock market and housing loan bundling scams and now public school dismantling are all examples of how to successfully defraud taxpayers with NO ONE GOING TO JAIL! All safety nets are being ransacked and our own government and its elected officials are protecting those Globalist carpetbaggers intent on destroying an educated and vigilant middle-class democracy. “Don’t throw out the baby with the bath water” education is the last equalizer!

  5. Robert Harrigan said

    on September 9, 2012 at 12:52 pm

    Good for Jerry Brown!

    Teachers are on contract. That contract already has a format for evaluations. The state cannot simply write a new law or adopt new “guidelines” or whatever they choose to call it, and unilaterally violate a contract that they signed with the teachers, without being in violation of the contract they signed. Any judge would agree that to do so would be a violation of contract law.

    The “new evaluations” are another attempt to destroy teachers unions, and thereby gain a political advantage, as it is well known that teacher unions favor politicians who favor the unions. It is also well known that Republicans do not favor teachers, and Democrats do.

    Republicans want to destroy public education and “let the parents pay” as Milton Friedman says in his right-wing bible “Capitalism and Freedom”.

    They imagine the world as it was in 1810: Rich children getting doted on by tutors in a guilded chambre someplace in the palace, and the poor kids in the coal mines, making the rich richer for 10 cents a day.

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