This editorial will appear in Monday’s print edition.
Race to the Top – the Obama administration’s offer of $4.35 billion to states serious about education reform – has taken on a whole new light in the last few days.
Falling revenues and rising expenses have forced Gov. Chris Gregoire to find ways to close a $2.6 billion hole in the current state budget. By law, she had to come up with a spending plan that didn’t require new taxes. On Wednesday, she reluctantly unveiled that plan, and it was uglier than a warthog with acne.
Among its cuts:
• $110.6 million for class size reduction in kindergarten through fourth grades, the very years when smaller classes are most crucial.
• $142.9 million for levy equalization, which would kill the crucial program that helps property-poor school districts compensate for their skimpy tax bases.
• $33.6 million for all-day kindergarten in high-poverty school districts, a godsend for many desperate families.
• $78.5 million for the student achievement program, which pays for professional development for teachers as well as smaller classes.
• $7.4 million for gifted education.
These items add up to $373 million. That happens to be close to what Washington might have won in Race to the Top money from the U.S. Department of Education.
Washington isn’t a contender for that money, though, because it hasn’t adopted enough of the successful reforms proven in other states.
Washington doesn’t offer genuine performance pay for high-caliber teachers. It doesn’t use easily available data to identify the most (and least) effective educators. It doesn’t permit state intervention in failing school districts. It doesn’t offer teachers enough support in mastering and doing their tough jobs.
It doesn’t demand rigorous study of science and math. It is one of the few states that still forbids charter schools.
These and other deficiencies have thrown the state out of the running for any of that federal money.
When it became clear that Washington had lost out, some groups and leaders vested in the status quo didn’t blink an eye. Some complained that the Obama administration was insisting on these reforms.
Beggars can’t be whiners. Right now – staring at a fiscal abyss and brutal education cuts – Washington cannot afford to pretend that Race to the Top doesn’t matter.
There’s going to be another round of competition for the money. The requirements aren’t likely to change. The 2010 Legislature has a chance to tap into a big pool of federal funds if it gets serious about fixing its schools, bucks the K-12 establishment and adopts the requisite reforms.
If lawmakers are willing to pass up this kind of money in the face of fiscal disaster – for the sake of avoiding proven reforms – it will be hard to take them seriously as supporters of quality education.