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Schwarzenegger, other top officials submit bid for 'Race to the Top' school-reform money

June 1, 2010 |  2:27 pm


State officials on Tuesday formally submitted their application in Round 2 of the competition for the lucrative but controversial federal “Race to the Top” school-reform grants.

In a ceremony at Lafayette Elementary School in Long Beach, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed California’s application along with state Supt. of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell and state Board of Education President Ted Mitchell.

"The goal is really quite simple," O’Connell said, "to have an effective teacher in front of every classroom, to have a true school leader at every school site and to have the necessary infrastructure and support at the school site to help deliver services to our students."

If successful, the state could receive up to $700 million in one-time funding to carry out specified reforms, including linking teacher and principal evaluations to student performance, placing the most effective educators in struggling schools and making better use of data to improve teaching. The plan also embraces the federal emphasis on replacing staff at “failing” schools and converting some of them to independently run charter schools, most of which are non-union.

The grant would provide a needed financial infusion as cash-strapped districts statewide are resorting to laying off teachers and shortening the school year to balance budgets.

Key participants in the bid are Long Beach Unified and Los Angeles Unified, the nation’s second-largest school system. Earlier this year, the state failed in the Round 1 contest, from which only Delaware and Tennessee emerged as winners. California almost abandoned a second try, but federal Education Secretary Arne Duncan personally urged Schwarzenegger not to give up, officials said.

In the current bid, California has opted to put together a more aggressive package spearheaded by a "working group" of seven school districts rather than settling for a watered-down application that would attract more widespread buy-in. In the end, 123 school systems signed on.

Teachers unions, for the most part, rejected the application. That fact could diminish the state’s chances at winning, given the scoring system.

At the news conference, the governor touted the participation of 40 unions. However, only 17 unions representing school districts are taking part. Another 17 unions listed in the state count are actually employee groups from individual charter schools operated by Green Dot Public Schools.

"We want to have every school be outstanding, an equal education for every child," Schwarzenegger said in response to a question about union involvement. "That’s what we’re trying to accomplish here. …
In this case, so many came together, so we have a good shot at getting that done. I’m very excited."

Of the three largest participating districts, only Fresno Unified achieved a union endorsement.

The L.A. teachers union raised concerns that the one-time money would create new costly, questionable mandates that would strain budgets over the long term. And it joined the Long Beach teachers union in raising concerns about the linking of teacher evaluations to student scores on standardized tests.

“The application has some very large changes to the way we do business in our classrooms, tying evaluations and pay and your job to student test scores,” said Mike Day, president of the Teachers Assn. of Long Beach. “That’s quite a sea change for us, for our members.”

Day added that his union had only one week to review the document and could offer no input into its final form.

A Long Beach Unified spokesman said teachers would be involved in how the money would be used if the state is successful.

“We fully understand we need to work with the teachers union,” said Chris Eftychiou. “But we thought it would be more dangerous to do nothing. We need those resources that the federal government is offering.”

-- Howard Blume

Photo: From left, State Board of Education President Ted Mitchell, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and state Supt. of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell sign California's "Race to the Top" Round 2 application at Lafayette Elementary School in Long Beach on Tuesday. Credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times