President Obama’s $4 billion education initiative to spur school reform has become a veritable piñata as the program heads into its second round. Not only has Congress raided the account to pay for teacher layoffs to be averted, prompting a White House veto threat of the war supplemental to which it’s attached, but there’s a quiet rebellion going on by some in the education community to ditch the program.
So why has the contest lost some of its shine? According to the ranking member on the House Education and Labor Committee, it’s a loss of confidence in the system.
“Competition is generally a good thing,” says Minnesota Republican Representative John Kline. “The question is fair, whose doing the judging? How’s the point system put together? Let’s face it, in anything like this where you have judges, whether it’s an Olympic diving competition or something like this, you have some subjectivity. In your state you would like to know what the rules are and want as little subjectivity as possible.”
Minnesota recently joined eight other states in opting out the second round of the contest.
Race to the Top’s aim is to prepare students for a better future. States participate by competing for a federal grant, administered in phases, and fulfilling what the program calls the four assurances: instituting rigorous standards and assessments, recruiting and retaining effective teachers, turning around low-performance schools and establishing data systems to track student achievement and teacher performance.
Phase I winners were announced on March 29th, and the deadline for submitting Phase II applications was June 1st. The winners for this phase will be announced later in September.
The $4.35 billion dollar incentive program was designed by the United States Department of Education and is funded by the ED Recovery Act as part of the American Recovery Act of 2009. It was announced by President Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan on July 24, 2009.
The National Education Association, the largest labor union in the U.S. representing teachers and other support personnel, gave the program a vote of “no confidence” earlier this month. Many saw it as a symbolic slam on the Obama administration. The item would eventually pass, but only by a razor-thin margin.
One member at the NEA convention where the resolution was approved actually offered a resolution to call for the ouster of Secretary Duncan, in part because of the program. That resolution was never approved.
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Teachers Union, called the program a mixed bag. “The real issue is that ‘Race to the Top’ in principle would be a good program if we didn’t have the kind of budget shortfalls that we have right now. It’s hard to be innovative and to do new and different things that require time and resources when we’re seeing state after state having devastating budget cuts.”
But that hasn't stopped several states, 35 of them in fact, plus the district of Columbia, from lining up for a slice of the grant money.
Representative Jared Polis, D-Co., told Fox News, "For every dollar they spend they're getting reforms all across the country. Reforms that encourage good teachers to stay in teaching. Reforms that intervene in changing schools, removing caps for the number of charter schools. These are all things that are happening nationally because of 'Race to the Top.'"
Bottom line – has this contest overstayed its welcome, particularly in the face of rising deficits? Or should Congress reinstate funding and add even more money than President Obama is seeking?
Fox News' Trish Turner contributed to this report.