State Lawmakers Race The Clock For “Race To The Top” Education Money

The state spends more than $20 billion each year on aid to its hundreds of local school districts.  Today, state lawmakers will scramble to try to have a chance at a relatively tiny amount of money that would go into the school aid pile at a time when school budgets are likely to be cut.

The state Legislature meets tonight, on the order of Gov. David Paterson, to consider legislation related to a new federal education initiative called Race To The Top.  The state’s application for Race To The Top funds is due in Washington by Tuesday afternoon.

The program, according to its website, has four main goals:

* Adopting standards and assessments that prepare students to succeed in college and the workplace and to compete in the global economy;

* Building data systems that measure student growth and success, and inform teachers and principals about how they can improve instruction;
* Recruiting, developing, rewarding, and retaining effective teachers and principals, especially where they are needed most; and
* Turning around our lowest-achieving schools.

It also requires states to approve more charter schools, which are privately-run schools that are overseen by the state Education Department.

New York State would be eligible for as much as $700 million in Race To The Top funds.  At least half of that money must be sent to local school districts, in proportion with another federal funding program, Title I.  The program is competitive and there’s no guarantee New York State will get the full amount, or any money at all.

School districts have had questions about the new program.  But Hannibal Superintendent of Schools MikeDiFabio put it simply to his Board of Education last week when he noted that local schools can only sit back and wait to see if the federal government approves the state’s application.  “If the state is successful, then Hannial will be successful,” he said.

Any money from Race To The Top would help offset expected cuts in state aid to schools.  For the current school year, big cuts in state education aid were replaced, dollar for dollar, with federal stimulus funds to preserve or create jobs.  Fulton schools estimated that stimulus funds preserved or created nearly 60 jobs.