Russ Whitehurst, a senior education analyst at the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank, said the president's announcement "certainly got the attention of states - they are desperate for the money'' during the severe economic downturn. "They don't want to leave it on the table.''
Duncan said yesterday that perhaps 10 to 20 states will have successful ideas that can be replicated, and divvy up the $4.3 billion prize - a significant windfall as financially strapped states continue to trim education budgets.
"The administration is using a huge amount of money to advance the president's own policy,'' Whitehurst said. "It's unprecedented that [Duncan] gets to dole it out'' with relatively little oversight from Congress.
Under the guidelines Duncan announced yesterday, to be eligible for the money a state must meet a series of standards - including some conditions that could anger teachers' unions, which helped sweep Obama into office last fall.
States that bar links between student performance and teacher evaluations, such as California, New York, and Wisconsin, are ineligible, and the program won't allow states that put caps on the number of charter schools - including Massachusetts.
Let's recall that tens of billions of educational funds were cut from the stimulus bill that would have gone simply to prevent education cuts. Now, a paltry $4.3 billion is being used to try to get states scrambling for crumbs, a way to get the maximum change in policy for the minumum amount of money. A Washington Post Op-Ed by Education Secretary Arne Duncan was titled "Education Reform's Moon Shot". Writers don't have final say on headlines, but Duncan himself began his piece thus:
To every governor who aspires to be his state's "education governor," this is your moment. Today, President Obama is to announce the draft guidelines for applying for the $4.35 billion Race to the Top fund -- by far the largest pot of discretionary funding for K-12 education reform in the history of the United States.
Since its inception in 1980, the U.S. Department of Education has traditionally been a compliance-driven agency with only modest discretionary funds available for reform and innovation. By contrast, the Race to the Top fund marks a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the federal government to create incentives for far-reaching improvement in our nation's schools. Indeed, the $4.35 billion available in Race to the Top easily outstrips the combined sum of discretionary funds for reform that all of my predecessors as education secretary had.
To see just how small this amount of money is, consider the cuts in the just-announced California budget. From the analysis of the non-profit California Budget Project:
The budget agreement:
• Reduce 2008-09 funding by $1.6 billion for K-14 programs covered by the Proposition 98 guarantee compared to the level in the February budget agreement. The measures reflect total 2008-09 Proposition 98 spending of $49.1 billion - the minimum level guaranteed by Proposition 98 - which is $9.0 billion (15.5 percent) lower than the level assumed in the 2008-09 Budget as enacted in September 2008.
• Reflect a 2009-10 funding level of $50.4 billion for K-14 programs covered by the Proposition 98 guarantee - $4.5 billion (8.2 percent) lower than the level assumed in the 2009-10 Budget enacted in February.
• Provide a statutory mechanism and continuing appropriation to restore Proposition 98 funding to the level where it would have been absent 2008-09 reductions.
The budget agreement:
• Reduces 2008-09 revenue limit payments to school districts and county offices of education by $1.6 billion compared to the funding level in the February budget agreement.
• Reduces 2009-10 revenue limit payments by $2.3 billion compared to the 2009-10 Budget enacted in February and adjusts the revenue limit deficit factor to 18.4 percent for school districts and 18.6 percent for county offices of education. Revenue limits provide general-purpose funding for schools.
• Defers $1.7 billion of school districts' revenue limit payments from 2009-10 to 2010-11.
• Counts $450 million in 2009-10 funding for the Quality Education Investment Act (QEIA) toward the Proposition 98 minimum funding guarantee to produce an equal amount of General Fund savings. Historically, QEIA dollars provided funds to school districts with the lowest academic achievement and did not count toward the Proposition 98 guarantee. The measures extend the QEIA program by one year, to 2014-15.
• Reduces 2009-10 funding by $80 million for Basic Aid school districts' categorical programs to provide a proportionate reduction to non-Basic Aid districts' revenue limit reductions.
The bolded figures above come to roughly $20 billion in cuts for just one state--and California, once a national leader, was already among the bottom 10 states in per-student classroom spending.
And that's just the cuts in one state!
This is less than a drop in a bucket. This is a squirt in the face with a water pistol while the bucket's being chopped up for firewood.
But it almost makes "health care reform" look good by comparison.