After a lengthy application process, the United States Department of Education finally announced the first-round winners of its competition for federal education reform funding – and New York was not on the list.
Although the Empire State was among 15 finalists in the Race to the Top grant program, which aims to overhaul American education, it was ultimately surpassed by Delaware and Tennessee, the two winners.
The initiative mandates that winning states realize significant progress in student achievement, improve high school graduation rates and ensure student preparation for success in college and the workplace. Recipients must also implement plans to adopt internationally-benchmarked student preparation standards, install systems to measure success, increase teacher effectiveness and improve under-achieving schools.
Ninety-four percent of eligible school districts and charter schools across New York submitted a signed memorandum of understanding in support of the state’s application, according to the state Board of Regents. New York and the 40 other applicants stood to split $4.35 billion in funding.
“It’s a painful missed opportunity for our state – which loses out on $700 million in crucial federal funds – and for our students, who would benefit from the change President Obama is promoting,” City Schools Chancellor Joel Klein said.
Any state not awarded Race to the Top funding – including those that did not apply in Phase 1 – will have the chance to re-work their proposals and apply again during the second phase of the process.
And New York is already planning for a big comeback. Klein said the state “must do everything we can to win in the second round. That means working with lawmakers to lift the cap on charter schools, mandate a teacher evaluation system that takes into account student achievement data, make it easier to remove ineffective teachers, and ensure that teacher layoffs are based on merit rather than seniority.”
With its Race to the Top program, Obama and the DOE have placed an emphasis on charter schools and it was long believed by proponents like Governor David Paterson and Mayor Michael Bloomberg that an end to New York’s charter school cap would result in federal grant money.
In fact, on January 18, the eve of the Race to the Top application deadline, Paterson convened a special session of state legislators in an attempt to increase statewide charter schools, but the lawmakers failed to pass his bill.
However, the DOE says there is still time for New York and other applicants.
“We set a very high bar for the first phase,” U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said in announcing the first-round winners. “With $3.4 billion still available, we’re providing plenty of opportunity for all other states to develop plans and aggressively pursue reform.”