Clovis News

California again denied education funds

Federal education officials on Tuesday rejected California's bid for $700 million in "Race to the Top" funding -- a plan that Fresno-area school leaders helped launch.

State school officials will receive a scorecard today showing why California's application fell short. Ten proposals were approved; California finished 16th of 19 finalists.

The state's plan initially was spearheaded by a consortium of districts that included Fresno, Clovis and Sanger unified districts.

Fresno Unified Superintendent Michael Hanson, Clovis Unified Superintendent Dave Cash and Sanger Unified Superintendent Marcus Johnson worked with school officials from Los Angeles, Long Beach, Sacramento and San Francisco to develop the second-round Race to the Top proposal. Eventually 302 districts serving more than 1.7 million students signed on to the state's application.

California's application might have made the grade if the state's largest teacher's union, the 45,000-member United Teachers Los Angeles, had backed it, said state Superintendent of Schools Jack O'Connell, who said he was "deeply disappointed" by the federal panel's announcement.

Support by teachers' unions was one of the factors considered by the federal panel evaluating the state applications.

Hanson said the state's application would have "been in better shape" if Los Angeles teachers had approved the reform plan, as did Fresno Unified teachers.

The plan called for placing effective teachers and principals in low-performing schools, revamping state education standards, expanding the state's data system to improve academic achievement and requiring that teacher and principal evaluations be based in part on student performance.

UTLA union president A.J. Duffy said L.A. teachers shouldn't be blamed for declining to support a federal proposal of one-time dollars that would have been unfunded in later years.

"It would be fine if this was ongoing money, but for anyone to say that we are obstructionist because we are standing in the way of one time-only funds is ludicrous," he said Tuesday.

On Tuesday, nine states and the District of Columbia were funded for the second round of the Race to the Top program. Earlier this year, two states were funded for $600 million.

O'Connell said his disappointment over California's exclusion was tempered by optimism after U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said the Obama administration will ask Congress to provide about $1.35 billion more for a third round of applications for Race to the Top funding.

In round one, California placed 27th of 41 states submitting applications.

"We went from a score of 337 in the first round into the 420s [in round 2], that's an 80-plus score gain," Hanson said. "We feel quite good about that score."

Hanson said he is interested in working on a third-round application.

"We learned a great deal," he said. "We pulled from it deeper and more productive relationships with our sister districts, and our staffs have learned a great deal from each other."

Even though the state has been shut out of Race to the Top so far, California will continue to improve academic achievement, O'Connell said:

"It will slow our reform efforts but certainly not defeat our efforts to close the achievement gap."

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