Why didn't California win a finalist position in the federal Race to the Top program?
The U.S. Department of Education announced Thursday that 15 states and the District of Columbia were finalists for the first round of funding from Race to the Top, a competition worth $4.3 billion in federal dollars. Despite a hard-fought victory to pass important educational reforms through the Legislature, California was glaringly absent from the list.
This is unsettling news. States that seemingly hadn't made reforms at all - like Kentucky, which doesn't permit charter schools, and New York, where the state Legislature failed to repeal a charter school cap - were among the finalists.
Not California. What happened?
We won't know for sure until April, when the feds will explain their reasons for rejecting California's application. But if we had to hazard a guess, it would be that the Race to the Top officials chose to pay more attention to the education squabbling in California than they did to our application.
Fortunately, there are some state legislators who remain passionately dedicated to reform, and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is too. State Sen. Gloria Romero, D-Los Angeles, who authored some of the hardest-fought reforms, insists that the state will still compete for the second round of Race to the Top funding. That application is due in June, which doesn't give California much time to figure out what went wrong this time.
One thing that definitely went wrong was the attitude of the state teachers' unions. Union leaders fought the reform legislation at every turn and managed to water down the package that eventually passed in January. Marty Hittelman, president of the California Federation of Teachers, even said he wasn't sorry that California lost the first round. And in part because of these kinds of feuds within the education community, lots of California school districts opted out of participation in Race to the Top. In Kentucky, every single school district signed on.
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