NC Hits Wall In Education Race
Special Report - April 1, 2010
Although a finalist in phase one of the competition, North Carolina lost its bid for the much-coveted Race to the Top education grant funds. The Department of Education announced on March 29 that only Tennessee and Delaware (out of 16 finalist states, including N.C.) would receive funding from their participation in this first round of the competition. North Carolina ranked 12th out of the 16 finalist states, with a score of 411 points out of 500 possible points.
Race to the Top is a U.S. Department of Education (USDE) grant competition, created by the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, and endowed with $4.35 billion in federal funding for the winning states’ education budgets. Forty states and the District of Columbia applied to compete for the funds, and North Carolina was one of 16 phase one finalists. The remaining $3.4 billion will be distributed to the winners of phase two in September. Phase two applications are due on June 1, and the Department of Education will hold a conference call to help applicants prepare for that round on April 22.
"It is unfortunate that North Carolina was not one of the two states receiving Race to the Top Funds in the first round of awards,” said State Superintendent of Public Instruction, June Atkinson, “North Carolina's track record for education innovation and strategic improvement is strong. We will build on that and review our application and feedback from the U.S. Department of Education as we move forward and strengthen our efforts to secure funding in the next round."
U.S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, called Tennessee and Delaware’s plans “innovative” and noted that their reform focuses will be effective throughout the states, in rural and urban areas. "Both states have statewide buy-in for comprehensive plans to reform their schools,” said Duncan. “They have written new laws to support their policies. And they have demonstrated the courage, capacity, and commitment to turn their ideas into practices that can improve outcomes for students." While Tennessee has a charter school cap, reviewers noted that the state demonstrated political willingness to raise that cap if necessary, and that only 21 of the available 90 charters were in operation. They added that funding for charters compared with standard public schools was “equitable.” The Delaware Charter School Law was passed in 1995.
USDE used the incentive to encourage school reform efforts such as acceptance of the national Common Core Standards, strong professional development efforts, and openness to charter schools. Last year, North Carolina Governor Bev Perdue and state education leaders both wrote letters objecting to the prominent role charter schools play in the grant’s expectations, and defending North Carolina’s cap on charter schools.
Some have speculated that North Carolina’s long-filled charter school cap of 100 schools has hampered its ability to compete for the funds. When asked whether New York’s failure to receive grant money was due to that state’s charter school cap, Duncan declined to answer. The USDE comments on North Carolina’s application show that reviewers on average docked the state by 18 out of 40 points under the charter-school heading. Those additional 18 points would have given North Carolina a total score of 429, putting the state in fifth place, behind Florida and ahead of Illinois. They commented that not only did North Carolina have a “low” cap on charter schools, the state also failed to provide evidence that charters were receiving funding equal to other public schools.
"North Carolina education officials should not be surprised at this development," said Bill Brooks, president of the North Carolina Family Policy Council. "Clearly when a major requirement is announced up front, such as the removal of the charter school cap, and state leaders decide to ignore that request, the failure speaks to that deliberate oversight. The General Assembly should immediately remove the cap when they return in May, so North Carolina will have a chance in the next phase of the race.”
The news of the loss came less than a week after Charlotte Mecklenburg County Schools voted to begin laying off as many as 600 teachers, and cut the pay of other professional educators.
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