Thursday, January 14, 2010

Texas Shuts Door on Millions in Education Grants

New York Times
Texas Shuts Door on Millions in Education Grants


Published: January 13, 2010

Texas will not compete for up to $700 million in federal education money, Gov. Rick Perry said on Wednesday, calling the Obama administration’s main school improvement grant program an unacceptable intrusion on states’ control over education.
Mr. Perry’s decision, days before a Jan. 19 deadline, interrupted months of work by Texas officials and a consulting company financed by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to prepare the application for the federal grant competition, known as Race to the Top. Texas had been eligible to win up to $700 million of a total of $4 billion the department will award for encouraging charter schools, improving teacher instruction, overhauling schools and joining an effort to adopt common academic standards.

“We would be foolish and irresponsible,” Mr. Perry said, “to place our children’s future in the hands of unelected bureaucrats and special-interest groups thousands of miles away in Washington.”

Mr. Perry, who is seeking re-election in November, is locked in a tough Republican primary battle with Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, and both candidates have been trying to appeal to conservative voters.

Texas is one of two states, (Alaska is the other) that last year refused to participate in a nationwide effort, supervised by the National Governors Association and encouraged by the Obama administration, to write common curriculum standards. That posture had put Texas at a disadvantage in the federal competition. But the state education commissioner, Robert Scott, argued in an interview in the fall that Texas was well-positioned to win because of what he characterized as his state’s pioneering work in school reform. In an interview Wednesday, Mr. Scott said that his views had evolved and that the potential payoff for Texas had been too small to justify giving up state control.

“Even if we won the full amount, it would only run our schools for two days, so for that we weren’t going to cede control over our curriculum standards,” Mr. Scott said.

Mr. Perry’s decision ended weeks of speculation about the state’s intentions. Officials at the Texas Education Agency had already spent 700 to 800 hours preparing the state’s proposal, and the Gates Foundation had spent some $250,000 to provide consultants to assist the state.

Gayle Fallon, president of the Houston Federation of Teachers, the state’s largest teachers union, said she supported the governor’s decision because the federal competition appeared to be leading toward adoption of a national test, which she opposes.

“I’m relieved because we’ve got enough problems with high-stakes tests already,” Ms. Fallon said.

But Terry Grier, superintendent of the Houston Independent School District, disagreed.

“I’m disappointed,” Mr. Grier said. “It was potentially a lot of money for our state. I’m not one to sell my soul for money, but I have 100,000 kids in Houston who don’t read at grade level, and I don’t agree with people who say resources don’t make a difference.”

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