Race To The Top’s “Blackmail” While California Schools Suffer

Calitics alum David Dayen takes a look at the recent announcement that Delaware and Tennessee have won a chunk of the “Race To The Top” funds awarded by Education Secretary Arne Duncan, and reaches a conclusion I wholly endorse:

I hope we can be honest about what this actually represents: blackmail. It forces states to change their education laws to fit particular notions about how to manage public education in America. And it does so at a time of crippling state budgets, when the Race to the Top funds mean the difference between thousands of teachers laid off or kept on the job, between class sizes expanding or shrinking. Basically, Arne Duncan and the White House are leveraging crisis to make preferred changes in education policy….

But the metrics for winning these stimulus funds comes down to “what Arne Duncan likes about education policy.”…What we do know is that only one side of this debate is withholding funding until their preferred policy prescriptions are enacted. And they’re doing it at a time when the biggest obstacle to education in America in the near-term can be measured in dollars and cents. Giant budget shortfalls in the states mean layoffs for teachers and worse opportunities for students, whether your state has a cap on charter schools or not.

I’ve been slamming Arne Duncan’s shock doctrine attack on public education for some time now, calling on Sacramento to repeal policy changes recently enacted to pursue the Race To The Top funds, only for Secretary Duncan to deny California’s grant application. I also similarly called on the Washington State legislature to reject proposals that would make that state eligible for RTTT funds.

It makes no sense for states to adopt unproven educational reforms merely because the Secretary of Education pulls a dollar on a string in front of legislators. So it’s good to see that this message is getting wider attention.

Although DC policy wonks like Ezra Klein embrace Duncan’s attack on schools, those who study state budgets are sounding the alarm about the disastrous cuts looming at California schools. The California Budget Project today released a study of the local impact of state education cuts. The cuts are devastating to the ability of our children to learn, and the ability of our schools to provide the mandated improvements under current state and federal law.

Let me offer an example. Here in Monterey County, the Alisal school district in Salinas, which has been in program improvement under No Child Left Behind and is now being overseen by a state trustee. Alisal is in line for a $2 million reduction in funding, which translates into $287 fewer dollars per child – in a state that is already one of the lowest in per-pupil spending in the country.

The fact that Arne Duncan is as silent as the night on those cuts, but aggressively pushing his shock doctrine “Race To The Top” scam, is a disturbing sign of a lack of commitment to K-12 education on the part of the federal government. President Obama pushed through stimulus funds that helped lessen the blow of state cuts in many districts last year, but is so far not making any moves to renew that funding this year.

On a day when the White House is touting its commitment to higher education, it is sad that they are not working to ensure that students in K-12 classrooms today will be able to make use of the student loan reforms when it comes time for them to apply to college. Unless the federal government reverses its policies and starts addressing the immediate crisis in the classroom, a whole generation will lose out on their education.

7 thoughts on “Race To The Top’s “Blackmail” While California Schools Suffer”

  1. As a progressive who is relatively unfamiliar with the nuts and bolts of education policy, your disagreement with the Obama administration presents a particularly difficult conundrum, as Calitics and the Obama Administration are two sources that I generally trust (though of course the Obama Administration has comprised much more than I would have preferred).

    In this post, you call Arne Duncan’s policy a “shock doctrine.” Why? You point out that he has done little to protest state cuts to funding K-12 eduction, a subject on which I agree with you completely. However, considering that our test scores rank below our per-pupil spending, is there anything we could do to spend our money more efficiently, aside from the changes compelled by the Race to the Top program?

    More broadly, if it were up to you, what would you propose to ameliorate the K-12 education crisis in California, aside from increased spending? I am all for raising our per-pupil spending to 1st in the nation but, given the difficulty of that, what else can we do?

  2. is on top of about $1100 in cuts per child in real dollars since 2007.

    The typical California school district is down about $1400 per child compared to 2007 funding.

    Much of that money will have to be paid back to districts… eventually. But, it will come back too late to help the kids losing opportunities and needed resources now.

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