A growing number of states have decided not to participate in the Obama administration’s Race to the Top grant program, forgoing hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funding. More and more states are choosing not to apply for a RttT grant as it become exceedingly evident that unions are driving the reform agenda and that Washington is becoming increasingly involved in states’ educational decision-making authority. Education Week reported yesterday:
About two dozen states are going back to Washington for another shot at billions in education grants under the Race to the Top program, but at least nine others with more than 7 million children are opting out of trying a second time as Tuesday’s application deadline approaches.
For them, a chance at hundreds of millions of dollars wasn’t enough to overcome the opposition of teachers unions, the wariness of state leaders to pass laws to suit the program and fears of giving up too much local control.
Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Minnesota, Oregon, South Dakota, Virginia, West Virginia and Wyoming will all be on the sidelines for the second round, along with a handful of other states that didn’t apply the first time. So far only two states, Delaware and Tennessee, have been approved for the money…
In Minnesota and Indiana, fights between the Republican governors and the teachers unions derailed applications.
Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and his education commissioner, Alice Seagren, blamed the state’s teachers union for thwarting changes in the Legislature that would have made a grant application more competitive. Seagren said the state had been ‘bought and sold’ by the union’s influence…
In Kansas and Wyoming, state officials worried about giving up too much local control. Virginia officials decided their academic standards were better than the ones contemplated in the grant.
It is clear that many states are beginning to reconsider the merits of the Race to the Top program. They see an administration that has been lauded as “reform-minded” but are getting clear signals to the contrary. Race to the Top has lost its luster among state leaders who see the status quo being reinforced through President Obama’s signature education agenda. Teachers unions are favored above meaningful reform, and Washington tries for the biggest federal overreach since 1965 by imposing national standards on states.
Benjamin Franklin warned against giving up “essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety.” That’s a good caution for states that would sign-on to the common core standards movement in order to obtain a few Race to the Top dollars. State leaders stumbled over one another during round 1 of the Race to the Top competition in order to secure hundreds of millions of dollars in temporary federal funding. But during round 2, the remaining $3.4 billion in RttT dollars were not as enticing.
It’s a good sign that some state leaders aren’t ready to relinquish their educational autonomy. And in those states, parents and taxpayers will be able to retain one of their most powerful tools for school improvement: control of their state’s academic content, standards, and testing.