Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education

‘Surprises’ in Race to the Top

As the Deputy Director at MBAE, one of the main projects has been tracking, evaluating, and summarizing the education stimulus programs of which Race to the Top (RTTT) is, by far, the most high profile. As such, I’ve gotten quite familiar with the program, the state’s application, and the reporting around both.

So, when my colleague, Linda, referred to this as a cynical post, I’d like to think that it’s not because I’m an overtly cynical person, just that I’m too immersed in the details to be as swept up in celebration. Not to say that there isn’t cause for celebration. Massachusetts has announced over $400 million (between Race to the Top and EduJobs) in additional education funding just last week. Further, as a winning state, Massachusetts has a powerful  four year plan for education reform – with significant investments in data infrastructure and policy change that will outlast the four year grant.

Now, however, the focus is on winners, losers, and the future of the Race to the Top program. In Round 1, most losing states accepted reviewer criticism and looked forward to Round 2 where more grants would be awarded. Unfortunately, in Round 2 there’s not much looking forward, and a lot more controversy around the loss. Notably absent from the winner’s circle were Colorado and Louisiana, two states that had made newsworthy strides towards reforming their education systems. New Jersey’s Commissioner of Education has lost his job in the wake of an application error that cost the state 5 points and $400 million. These specific cases sidestep the overall eastern state bias of the results, with Hawaii, a state that opted for teacher furloughs to balance its education budget, the only winner west of the Mississippi.

None of the above should diminish the impact of the Race to the Top program which has achieved remarkable results from relatively limited funds. And, with any luck, it won’t. Multiple states have crafted education reform agendas, changed laws and regulations, and generally ‘enjoyed’ a resurgence of education reform advocacy.

It seems to me, however, that a third round of Race to the Top – or integration of an annual RTTT into the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) – is unlikely at best and a replay of the sweeping changes brought about by the ‘09-’10 competition – impossible. The winning states have got their money, and, as was the case for the Round 1 winners, are probably ineligible to compete in later rounds. The losing states fall into 2 categories – those that never entered the competition in the first place (and aren’t going to become fans now) and those that just got burned by the Round 2 results. Neither group is likely to back further competitive funding for states with better “grant writers”. With the passage of the EduJobs bill (which had a budget almost twice that of Race to the Top) states and schools have a clear example of an alternate route to the federal funds that everyone will be clamoring for as the stimulus money runs dry in FY11 and FY12.

Again, the impact of Race to the Top on the education reform landscape has been monumental, and here in Massachusetts it has the potential to pay huge dividends – but for states that ran and lost, it will be quite some time before they’ll run again…

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Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education