NY to Receive Federal 'Race to the Top' Education Funds

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

New York is among the winners of the much sought after Race to the Top federal education grants.

The state grant, worth almost $700 million, is meant to help kick-start education reforms favored by the Obama administration. These include finding new ways of getting high quality teachers, improving the curriculum and testing, and creating a database to track student performance from kindergarten to college.

At a Midtown news conference, Gov. David Paterson welcomed the grant. "It will go a long way to assure the students all over this state, from the rural areas to our urban centers, the quality education that they all deserve," Paterson says.

Education Commissioner David Steiner says the money would be used to fund a “world class curriculum” that would be the same regardless of where a child lives. He also says teachers would receive more training.

The state lost its first bid for a Race to the Top grant earlier this year. Tennessee and Delaware were the only winners in that round. That sent off a scramble by competing interests in Albany to pass legislation that would boost New York’s chances: namely, allowing more charter schools and figuring out a way to use student test scores to evaluate teacher performance.

Teachers objected to putting too great an emphasis on test scores. They also worried about the proliferation of charter schools, which usually don’t have unionized teachers. Some lawmakers were also opposed to allowing too many charters, especially those run by for-profit management companies, while others saw them as important innovations. The charter cap was eventually raised from 200 to 460. And the teachers' unions agreed to allow principals to evaluate their members based partly on test scores.

The legislative leaders who joined Paterson and Mayor Michael Bloomberg on Tuesday at two different press conferences about the award crowed about their ability to pull together in the interests of public education. “We did what many said we could not accomplish,” says State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.

The money will go directly to New York State's reforms, but between $250 million and $300 million will be spent on innovations taking place in New York City. Bloomberg noted that many of the reforms were already taking place under his watch, such as a data system to measure which students are making progress. But, the system has won mixed reviews from teachers and principals.

Asked whether $700 million would be enough to fund such ambitious reforms, especially in tough economic times, Bloomberg says he would “love more money,” but that there are always limited resources.

Other winners of this second round of Race to the Top grants are Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Maryland, North Carolina, Ohio, Rhode Island and Washington D.C. This second round of grants is worth a total of about $3.4 billion over four years.

New Jersey was one of the 18 finalists but lost out on a grant that could have been worth as much as $400 million. President Barack Obama’s home state of Illinois also lost.

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