The Fight is on for Federal Education Money

schoolscat.pngCalifornia is trying to pass legislation that will clear the way for Calfiornia to compete in the Race to the Top program which would make the state eligible for up to 700 million.  The money would go to reform the nation’s worst-performing schools.  However, a fight has emerged on what role Charter Schools should play in this effort.

Earlier this week, the Assembly approved legislation by Assemblymember Julia Brownley (D-Santa Monica).  This legislation would lift the cap on the number of charter schools in California, at the same time revamping the state’s academic standards and target federal funding to those schools most in trouble.

However, education reformers have called Assemblymember Brownley’s legislation a weak effort that would fail to protect the worst failing schools.  Instead they along with Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has vowed to veto the legislation if it hits his desk, favor a bill that was sponsored by Senator Gloria Romero, also a Democrat (los Angeles), that would provide parents far more authority in the ability to intervene in failing schools or to move their kids to Charter Schools.

The Senate narrowly passed that legislation last month despite strong opposition from the California Teachers Association.

The Assembly however voted that legislation down and instead voted by a healthy margin to support Assemblymember Brownley’s legislation.

Said Assemblymember Mariko Yamada (D-Davis) on Thursday:

“Education is the cornerstone of every successful society.  Our very survival as a state depends on the quality of education for our citizens.  The Federal Government has given us an opportunity to compete for up to $700 million that will serve the immediate needs of our student population.  I supported this bill because it is a comprehensive and collaborative approach to maximize the potential of Race to the Top funds.  While I remain concerned about lifting the cap on charter schools, I believe that these reforms will help us address the achievement gap.  I supported this bill today, but I plan to closely monitor these reforms to ensure that they work for our students in order to achieve educational equity.”

Senator Romero issued forth a strong rebuke of her legislation by the Assembly, sending out a release entitled, “Assembly Chokes on Race to the Top School Reform Bill.”

“I am profoundly disappointed that my colleagues in the Assembly chose to kill one of the most comprehensive and important pieces of education reform legislation in the nation.  Even more disturbing is that they killed the bill by silence—six members chose to abstain.”

She continued:

“This is a civil rights issue.  President Obama has asked us to take on the status quo and do the right thing.  That can be frightening; nonetheless I call upon the Assembly Education Committee to reconvene on Thursday and do the right thing by this legislation.”

According to her release, the Romero bill does the following to make California eligible and competitive for a Race to the Top grant.

Establishes a plan for turning around the bottom 5 percent of California’s persistently lowest-achieving schools, including charter schools, and allows parents to petition for a school to be turned around.

  • Removes the cap on the number of charter schools authorized to operate in California and establishes two working groups to ensure that California has high-quality charter schools.
  • Provides open enrollment options for students stuck in schools that are identified as low-achieving, defined to be those in program improvement, corrective action, or restructuring, and also ranked in deciles 1 to 3, consistent with existing federal law.
  • Requires the Governor, Superintendent of Public Instruction, and the State Board of Education to jointly develop a plan with Local Educational Agencies that choose to participate for submission in Phase 1 of the Race to the Top grant competition and authorizes the State Board of Education to provide each participating LEA relief from compliance with Education Code provisions in order to implement activities in the state plan.
  • Requires the state’s Race to the Top plan to address the need for improvement in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics education.
  • Establishes the Science, Technology, Engineering, Math and Career Technical Education Educator Credentialing Program to provide alternative routes to credentialing and get more STEM teachers into the classroom.
  • Requires the State Board of Education to adopt reading, writing, and mathematics academic content standards that include new standards from the Common Core State Standards Initiative but also maintain or exceed the rigor of California’s existing standards.
  • Authorizes greater use of data to improve instruction and student learning and as one of multiple measures of teacher and administrator performance and employment decisions (not standardized test results alone) – as decided at the local level subject to collective bargaining.
  • Positions California to maximize its chances for a Race to the Top grant AND ensures that California begins to make real progress on the reforms that will be the cornerstone of reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and that will impact allocation of potentially billions in future federal funds for public education.

Assemblymember Brownley pushed her bill on the Democratic Weekly Radio Address last week. 

I introduced legislation that will strengthen California’s application for federal education grants under President Obama’s Race to the Top initiative.

Consistent with research and extensive public testimony from a series of Education Committee hearings, AB 8 follows recently released Race to the Top guidelines and aims to improve education for all California students.  Persistently low achieving schools will be required to implement one of four turn-around strategies to help students achieve at higher levels.  This mission will be supported by using Race to the Top funds for high-quality professional development and technical assistance from state and local experts.

We’ll continue to expand California’s data system, using that data to improve classroom instruction and keep parents and the public better informed about student progress.  The State superintendent of Public Instruction will develop a new set of state standards in language arts and mathematics that are internationally benchmarked. These standards will reflect national common core standards and help students as they build toward college and career readiness.

The cap on the number of charter schools California will be removed, and we will require new fiscal and academic standards for charter schools that are consistent with those for traditional public schools.  Local education agencies and California’s lowest achieving schools will be a priority for new federal funding in our application.

Applications for the Race to the Top program are not due until January 19 and outgoing Assembly Speaker Karen Bass sees room for compromise:

“We anticipate further discussion and amendment as the bill continues moving through the Senate, which is its next step in the process, not the governor’s desk.  The governor says he wants compromise. The reality is compromise is already driving the process.”


Let’s be honest.  California needs every dime it can muster to help failing schools, the problem is that while $700 million sounds like a lot of money, it pales in comparison to the billions that have already been cut from California Education and the billions more that will be cut.

In other words, the budget cutting process has already taken far more from education than this program will add.  If President Obama is serious about changing the landscape of education in this country, it’s going to take far more than a $4.3 billion grant to do so.

First we are going to have to put back the money that has been taken out of education and not just at the K-12 level, but as we know the California higher education system is on the brink.

Then we have to figure out a way to solve our differences.  We saw in Davis that the teachers can work with and for a Charter School.  We have to make that a statewide priority.

But we also have to recognize that innovative programs are not a panacea and they are certainly not a replacement for billions in education dollars that do basic things like hire teachers.

Last week we reported that efforts to lower class size have been pressed to the bone by the budget crisis.  That is just the beginning of the problem and we must move quickly.

In short, compromise will occur here, they will find a way to put aside their differences to get the $700 million, but unless the Governor changes his budget priorities, far more than that will leave the system this year on top of what has already left the system.  He can tout this all he wants, but there is no escaping that fact.

On the local level, we are facing once again $3.5 million in budget cuts.  This program is not going to impact the local district, and DJUSD is hardly a district that is in the failing category, but unless somehow the state and federal government step up, we will all be in jeopardy.
DJUSD Places Budget Information on Their Web Site

In an increased effort to address critical questions on the budget information, the DJUSD has placed an FAQ on their website addressing questions about the current budget where the district is facing another shortfall of around $3.5 million.

Please click here to view the FAQ and the information provided.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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9 thoughts on “The Fight is on for Federal Education Money”

  1. Frankly

    There is a growing fundamental problem with the business of public education that can be defined as a speed and efficiency gap. Our country’s education needs are going the way of Star Trek; however, the public schools are largely prehistoric bureaucratic models that move at a snail’s pace to implement change. We need significant change. We need to discard most of the old model and system and replace it with an innovative, technology-enabled & service-oriented business model.

    First we need to break the teachers’ unions that hold hostage these progressive necessities. The path to get this done is more charter schools and vouchers programs. Ultimately we will need a public-private partnership with more emphasis on the private. We should not support giving another cent to fund the current model because it will just serve to allow us to continue our denial that major reform is required. I think the Governor and the State Legislature have it more right than Assembly member Brownley; however, it is not enough.

    It is telling that Obama the man of “change” and Democrats in control of Congress don’t do more here. Where is the vision and related policy that will help propel this country forward? Instead, Obama and the Democrats in Congress are focused on refashioning our healthcare system into one more resembling the model of public education. What a terrible distraction and waste of time given the REAL crisis in our country. We wring our hands over every tragic healthcare outcome, yet we continue to crank out copious amounts of poorly educated kids whose lives are destined to be nothing but tragic.

  2. nprice

    Why is the state fighting so hard for Federal education dollars. Because, the state legislature and the Governor voted to put a $11.3 billion bond on the Nov. ballot to fund their package of water bills. Just the $487 million each year for 30 years – add that up – for the debt service on the huge bond measure would provide funding for schools, public health, social services, public transportation and more. Parents and teachers …take note, the chase after Federal $$ is meant to fill the gap if this multi-billion bond passes.
    Nancy Price

  3. wdf1

    We need to discard most of the old model and system and replace it with an innovative, technology-enabled & service-oriented business model.

    Is there a currently existing educational model that you like that we should follow?

    If you dislike most of the old model, what part do you like?

  4. Frankly

    See the following from a 2001 study funded by the DOE entitled “The Impact of Charter Schools on School Districts”:


    There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that the current public education model is broken and cannot be adequately restructured due to the death grip exerted by the national and regional teachers unions. Unless we drastically change the model, US education outcomes compared to other nations will continue to fall farther and farther behind. This, more than anything, will hamper our ability to compete in the global marketplace and will consequently destroy the standard of living for future generations. We need a nimble, efficient and flexible model that caters to the needs of students and their parents (i.e., the customers). The pace of change for almost everything in our lives has increased exponentially. Our kids are bored out of their gourds attending public schools. They need something drastically different… and just throwing more money at the current system has proven to not do the trick.

    The irony here is that the profession of teaching also benefits from market-focused changes. Salaries and job satisfaction will increase for those with talent and passion. This then will attract new creative, risk-taker blood to the profession as word gets out. Unfortunately, today, the business of teaching is infested with and controlled by the risk-averse; those with that personality trait and older people who naturally seek greater comfort norms. The political process protects them, and in doing so, hampers the creative destruction/construction process that leads to ever increasing quality and efficiency.

    Read about Michele Rhee (the DC public school chancellor), and her difficulty fighting the teachers unions and the local politicians. There is fantastic idiocy at play there… Ms. Rhee is attempting to improve education quality for the students, but she is relentlessly attacked by the very same people supposedly entrusted with the same expectation even as student test scores improve. This situation provides the perfect evidence that the main impediment to greater education quality is the teachers union and their political connection.

    However, if we grow the number of charter schools, and also provide vouchers for the worst-performing school districts, I think we force public education to adapt.

  5. wdf1

    Jeff Boone: There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that the current public education model is broken…

    However, if we grow the number of charter schools, and also provide vouchers for the worst-performing school districts, I think we force public education to adapt.

    Your comments strike me as overgeneralized. There are public schools that are working quite decently, Davis schools being one example.

    Davis HS ranked well in this December 2009 survey by U.S. News and World Report:


    As a taxpayer, I am open to seeing new ideas tried, but I don’t want to see wholesale change until we have proven models.

    This 2006 study showed that on average charter schools performed below average compared to public schools:


    I am well aware of Michelle Rhee and am very interested in what she is doing in D.C. A couple of years of test scores since she came on board have shown good improvement in her district, but they still have a way to go. They (D.C. Public Schools) were already by many accounts one of the worst in the U.S. But even Michelle Rhee had a comment about vouchers that runs a little counter to your position:

    [quote]Mayor Fenty and Chancellor Rhee strongly believe that all families in the District of Columbia must have access to excellent public school options, and are committed to ensuring that students in every ward are afforded this opportunity. While Chancellor Rhee hasn’t taken a formal position on vouchers, she disagrees with the notion that vouchers are the remedy for repairing the city’s school system.

    From Washington City Paper:[url][/url][/quote]

  6. Frankly

    Your comments strike me as overgeneralized

    Yes, they were because the problems are systemic. There are always going to be bright spots live Davis; but I attribute the success of Davis schools more to the extraordinary high levels of parental education and involvement. Having two sons attending Davis schools, I have first-hand knowledge of the high levels of attention and sophisticated-support required to ensure they received a decent education. Children of broken homes or from families lacking the same means or sophistication are at a disadvantage in Davis, because the rest of us have set the bar so high for parental involvement and support. I am not bashing teachers here – it is problem with the system.

    This 2006 study showed that on average charter schools performed below average compared to public schools

    Actually, I am not that supportive of charter schools because the authorization mechanism is likely to be as dysfunctional as is the decision mechanism for the public schools. What I am in favor of is student/parent choice and market-based competition. So, I am much more an advocate of vouchers and semi-privatization of our nation’s K-12 education system. First, we need to break up the unions because they wield too much political influence to protect their interests over the interests of parents and students.

    I am not happy with the status quo. Nor am I happy with the Obama administration and Democrats in control of Congress for manufacturing a “crisis” in healthcare while largely ignoring the REAL crisis in education. By the way, did you know that the massive end of year spending bill just railroaded through includes a provision to phase out the DC voucher program that has allowed many inner city poor students to attend better schools? Gotta’ pay back those union votes, don’t we?

  7. wdf1

    Niney percent of school districts in Kern Co. are declining Race to the Top funds:


    A perspective as to why districts would reject this money.

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