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Thursday, September 24, 2009

Washington will Race to the Top to help fund and improve its schools

As I mentioned on Monday, the amount of money Washington’s government has to pay for critical services is not getting any larger, but in fact is shrinking, to the tune of a lost $1 billion this biennium. To a state budget that painfully squeezed out $9 billion in lost revenue during the last legislative session that loss will hurt.

Families with kids in school are really going to feel the pain. My school district, Lake Washington, lost a huge chunk of state funding and avoided laying off teachers (families' last choice) by cutting in practically every other possible place: by reducing bus service and even charging families on some bus routes, increasing fees for after school activities, sports and all-day kindergarten, eliminating most teacher training and cutting back in school maintenance.

Believe me, students and parents are feeling those cuts.

Thanks to the Obama administration's emphasis on education, there is a small reason for hope. As part of the federal stimulus package, "Race to the Top" funds of $4.3 billion will be awarded to states who demonstrate a serious commitment to improving education. The administration is looking for dramatic changes and innovations in the way states educate their youth. We should be proud that Washington's hard-won education reforms that the legislature passed last winter are part of the package that could get us there.

The administration is looking for:
In four areas, Washington and its schools must stand out: standards and assessments, teacher quality, data collection and turning around low-performing schools.
Washington’s new state education chief, Randy Dorn, plans to apply for the first round of funds this fall and says that he is "confident about our chances."

The advocacy group League of Education Voters has a detailed course of action to compete for these funds and sees two areas in which we could improve and increase our odds of landing some stimulus dollars.
While Washington meets the basic eligibility requirements to apply for a Race to the Top grant, two key barriers to a competitive application remain. First, our teacher evaluation system is wholly inadequate and can’t distinguish between the most and least effective educators. Second, state law prohibits intervention in chronically under performing schools. The upcoming legislative session can remedy these shortcomings.
Washington should be working to earn federal money meant to foster improvement and innovation. Without it, what’s left to cut out of our schools in order to make up for the newest revenue shortage? Heat? Electricity? Paper? These things have already been cut. How much farther can we go?

It looks like without a portion of the Race to the Top funds we are looking at fewer teachers in Washington classrooms next year, the last choice for most families.

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