No Handouts, States Compete For Education Aid The billions of dollars for schools in the Obama administration's "Race to the Top" fund come with a number of strings attached. Some states have changed laws to comply with the requirements.
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No Handouts, States Compete For Education Aid

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No Handouts, States Compete For Education Aid

No Handouts, States Compete For Education Aid

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

Today is the deadline for states to apply for what the Obama administration is calling, the Race to the Top fund. The money will go to education. About 40 states have been competing for $4.3 billion. And today, President Obama tossed in another $1.3 billion.

As NPR's Claudio Sanchez reports, the money comes with lots of strings attached.

CLAUDIO SANCHEZ: Cash-starved states would love to get their hands on as much federal aid as they can for their schools. But instead of just giving it to them, President Obama is having them compete for it.

President BARACK OBAMA: Over the past few months, we've seen such a positive response that today I'm announcing our intention to make a major new investment, more than $1.3 billion in this year's budget to continue the race to the top.

SANCHEZ: Even with the extra money though, some critics refuse to rubber stamp Mr. Obama's reform agenda. Tom Dooher, head of Education Minnesota, the state's largest teachers' union, says the competition for Race to the Top funds has been coercive.

Mr. TOM DOOHER (President, Education Minnesota): And our teachers are very cautious because they don't have money in their schools. Their superintendents are telling them this might be the only money we get for a number of years, let's go for it. But we shouldn't have the pursuit of money be our blind stampede to something that doesn't really help students.

SANCHEZ: Besides, says Dooher, teachers in Minnesota had little or no input. So, his union decided not to endorse their state's application. Teachers and local school officials in California, Kansas, Florida, Michigan, and Indiana also withheld their support. Another dozen states, including Texas, didn't even apply, either because the money came with more federal oversight or because some states simply weren't sold on the reforms the Obama administration is pushing.

Mr. ARNE DUNCAN (Department of Education): Frankly, (unintelligible) I could care less it was a tough sale or not. It's the right thing to do.

SANCHEZ: U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan.

Sec. DUNCAN: You know, all this money is obviously voluntary. If states don't want to apply, don't want to compete, they have every right not to do that. But I will tell you that when we put literally billions of dollars on the table that you'll see people more than step up.

SANCHEZ: Here's what Duncan wants states to do with the money. They must shut down failing schools and open lots more privately-run charter schools, develop tougher tests tied to higher academic standards, collect better data with which to track and report students' progress, make teacher education and training more rigorous and from now on, link teacher evaluation to students' performance in test scores. If it sounds prescriptive that's because it is, says North Carolina Governor Bev Perdue.

Governor BEV PERDUE (North Carolina): And, you know, I have been very critical of the things that in Race to the Top that I found unacceptable in terms of cookie-cutter approach, in terms of lack of the capacity to let a state do what they want us to do. But at the end of the day, we all have to do what's best for this country's future.

SANCHEZ: North Carolina did apply and could get $400 million in Race to the Top funds, even if it means changing the state's educational priorities, which is exactly what some states have done to have a better shot of getting Race to the Top funds. About a dozen states have thus far removed caps on the number of new charter schools. Others will allow schools to evaluate teachers based on student's performance in test scores. That's a huge concession, however, that only one of the nation's two powerful teachers' unions has agreed to. Despite opposition for many from of its rank and file, the American Federation of Teachers says it now supports the idea.

Ms. RANDI WEINGARTEN (President, American Federation of Teachers): Who of us understand that teacher evaluation is broken and needs to change?

SANCHEZ: AFT President Randi Weingarten.

Ms. WEINGARTEN: The issue for us though comes down to collaboration and working together.

SANCHEZ: For its part, the National Education Association, the nation's largest teachers' union, has not come in it. The $4.3 billion in Race to the Top funds will be dispersed after two rounds of competition in April and at the end of the year. The additional $1.3 billion President Obama announced today will be added to his 2011 budget request.

Claudio Sanchez, NPR News.

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