Schwarzenegger seeks bolder action as state loses out on federal schools funds
by Rob Hotakainen | Sacramento Bee
Friday, Mar. 05, 2010 -- WASHINGTON – Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said Thursday that California must be "more aggressive and bolder" in changing its education system after losing out in a highly competitive national contest for federal money.
Federal officials rejected California's application for a share of $4.35 billion in Race to the Top funding, part of President Barack Obama's effort to overhaul public schools.
The news came in a letter to governors, in which U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said that "only the very best proposals" would get money. Fifteen states and the District of Columbia were announced as finalists.
It's a setback for Schwarzenegger and the Legislature, which met in special session in January to change state education laws in an attempt to win the money.
"While the reforms we passed did move our state forward, they did not go far enough because other states were more competitive," Schwarzenegger said.
Jed Wallace, president of the California Charter Schools Association, called California's loss "a negative blow to public education, and a step backward in the need for reform."
"This is deeply disappointing for the children of California, particularly after Gov. Schwarzenegger and the Legislature acted to ensure California would meet the federal government's eligibility requirements," Wallace said.
It's yet another blow to the state's budget, too. State officials estimated that California could have won as much as $700 million had it been selected.
"We were talking about hundreds of millions of dollars that would have helped in the toughest budget year that we've had probably since the Great Depression," said Assemblyman Ted Gaines, R-Roseville.
Forty states and the District of Columbia applied for the money, Duncan said in his letter. He said the money is for the first phase of the program, and he encouraged states that did not win this time to apply for the second phase. The deadline is June 1.
The states' applications were judged by five independent reviewers, whose individual scores were averaged to give the state its final score. Duncan said winners in the competition will be announced in early April.
State officials said they had no idea why California's application was rejected. "I hope we'll qualify for something in the second round," said Assemblyman Tom Torlakson, D- Antioch, a candidate for state superintendent of public instruction. "It was always in doubt whether we would get funds in the first round."
To compete for the money, states had to promise to improve teacher effectiveness, make changes in failing schools, improve academic standards and student testing,and use data to become more accountable to the public.
At the governor's urging, state lawmakers approved a plan to empower parents to force changes in failing campuses through signature-gathering drives, and to allow students in 1,000 of the worst-scoring campuses to enroll elsewhere.
In January, the governor called the state's action "sweeping education reforms" that would "make sure California is highly competitive for hundreds of millions in federal dollars for our schools."
In a statement Thursday, Schwarzenegger said he would continue to fight for more education changes "to make California truly competitive for the billions of dollars our students desperately need – the people of California expect nothing less.
"The decision by the Obama administration demonstrates that we need to be more aggressive and bolder in reforming our education system," the governor said.
Arun Ramanathan, executive director of The Education Trust-West, said California lost out because state officials decided to play it safe and not enact enough changes to satisfy the Obama administration.
"Giving someone an exit strategy from a low-performing school is not the same as improving the learning conditions inside of those schools," Ramanathan said.
Dan Walters: Did Schwarzenegger snooker Legislature on 'Race to the Top' changes?
By Dan Walters | The Sacramento Bee
Friday, Mar. 5, 2010 - It's not often that California's educational establishment – led by the very powerful California Teachers Association – loses a Capitol battle, especially when it's pitted against its archenemies in the school reform movement.
That's what made the approval in January of two major education reform measures, targeting low-performing schools and empowering parents to force school site change, so striking.
Reformers, led by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and EdVoice, an advocacy group financed by a few wealthy civic leaders, and the CTA-led establishment have been jousting for years over whether schools must have more money to get better, or could and should be improved without extra funds.
The reform faction, however, gained a powerful ally in President Barack Obama, who offered $4.35 billion to states that met his Race to the Top criteria.
Obama's education secretary, Arne Duncan, singled out California as he pressed states to adopt reforms that unions dislike, such as increasing charter schools and using student test data for teacher evaluations.
It put Democratic legislators, who usually march to the CTA drumbeat, in a bind. If they refused to do what Schwarzenegger and Obama demanded, they'd look like obstructionists who were sacrificing children's education by ignoring as much as $700 million from the feds, even though it's scarcely 1 percent of school spending. But if they enacted the reforms, they'd be alienating powerful allies.
As the deadline for application loomed, the Legislature passed the two bills, somewhat watered down from the original versions but still opposed by big education groups. Republicans embraced them overwhelmingly and Democrats were divided. Sen. Gloria Romero, D-Los Angeles, the EdVoice candidate for state schools superintendent, carried one.
"In the past, parents had no power to bring about change in their children's schools, but that will now change," Schwarzenegger crowed during his State of the State address. "Parents will now have the means to get rid of incompetent principals and take other necessary steps to improve their children's education."
On Thursday, Duncan announced 16 finalist states. California was noticeably absent. While the state may apply in future rounds, it could be compelled to make even more changes of the sort that the CTA and its allies dislike to have a chance of winning a grant.
Schwarzenegger clearly wants more, saying, "This decision ... demonstrates that we need to be more aggressive and bolder in reforming our education system. While the reforms we passed did move our state forward, they did not go far enough because other states were more competitive."
So was the Legislature snookered? Perhaps so. But perhaps what it did under duress will improve a very troubled system regardless of whether the state receives any Obamabucks.