State Doesn’t Apply for Federal Money

By Libby Casey

The Obama Administration wants to boost education funding, even as it calls for belt-tightening throughout federal government.  It also wants to rework the way states and school districts get money, awarding those trying to improve and showing progress rather than based on population formulas.  It’s already running one new program, but Alaska didn’t apply for the money.  
President Obama’s proposed budget calls for the most education funding ever requested by a president.  U-S Education Secretary Arne (ARE-nee) Duncan says the nearly 50 billion dollar plan is key to future success:

Some people are questioning in tough economic times how can you afford to do more here, I think what he clearly sees is this is an investment.   That we have to get dramatically better.  It’ll push us and the country to educate to a better economy.

The Obama Administration doesn’t just hope to boost education funding by more than six percent – it also wants reforms, like overhauling the No Child Left Behind law, or N-C-L-B.  That Bush-Administration plan focuses on test scores and reaching adequate yearly progress, and wants all students at “proficient academic levels” by 2014.  But Duncan says it sets unrealistic goals without a road-map to get there, which led to a dumbing-down. He says moving away from that can help states like Alaska, which were hurt by N-C-L-B’s requirements.

Obviously when you have a one- room school house where teacher teaching English, math, social studies, science, under NCLB they were labeled not highly qualified because didn’t have those credentials, didn’t quite fit.  And so what you have took again is less… I’m less interested in paperwork than teacher effectiveness.  Are kids learning.

Duncan says local districts and states should decide what works best for them.  And the Administration wants to move funding into competitive pots.

What we’ve done historically is we just did these large formulaic grants.  And there’s nothing about student achievement, nothing about improvement.  There were all these ways to fail, if you were successful as school or state or district, what did you get, nothing ever happened.  So there were all these consequences but no rewards for success.

To start the Administration’s reforms, the Education Department led an effort last year to create new common standards.  All but two states participated:  Texas… and Alaska.
The Alaska Department of Education’s spokesman, Eric Fry, says it did not join in the national Common Core Initiative because it’s working on its own standards review.

Our concern at the time had something to do with feeling it was a very rushed process. And we thought, well it sounds like someone already knows what they want.  And we thought wouldn’t be active participation by states, they’d pretty much be handed a done-deal.

Fry says that doesn’t mean the state will ignore the national results – he says it’s convening Alaskan educators later this month to look at them.
But that’s not the only Obama initiative Alaska chose not to participate in. It’s one of 10 states that did NOT apply for funding for a federal grant program called Race to the Top, which offered 4 billion dollars in stimulus funds.
Fry says that’s because of time constraints during the six month application window.

The timeline was just too short, so many things going on.  We’re busy with our ordinary work, and then we’re busy monitoring the other types of stimulus funds, and then there was concern about flu, and that took a certain amount of time away from us.  And then we’ve been busy on reform plans.

Anchorage School District Superintendent Carol Comeau says she wasn’t surprised that the state skipped last month’s deadline to apply for Race to the Top – but she does hope it participates in an upcoming round two.

The governor when I met with him in fall he made it clear he had told Secretary Duncan he had concerns about federal coming into educational issues.  So I knew they were not going to apply first round.  So the second round I am hopeful that they will see the value in pursuing this opportunity.

The state says it DOES plan to apply for round two this year.
The Race to the Top program may be an example of what the Obama Administration hopes to do in the future… but even as it tries to move away from No Child Left Behind, Congress must make the next move.  It has the power to reauthorize and change the education act, and decide whether to go along with the President’s budget plan.


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