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Louisiana School Board Association

News & Announcements

Race To The Top Grant Program - Background - Wednesday, October 7, 2009

                                   Race to the Top Information Summary


   Like many Louisiana families, our schools are facing unprecedented fiscal challenges and are desperately in need of the promise of millions of dollars in support from Washington.  We will gratefully accept programmatic and financial support that provides real help to our children and is also fiscally responsible.  But, we cannot and will not support the transfer of millions of public dollars to the bank accounts of a few well positioned individuals or to support their ideological or political agenda.  Guidelines issued by the U.S. Department of Education are very prescriptive.  The consequences to local education agencies that choose to take the grant can be grave.  The following are questions that you first need to consider:

What is Race to the Top?

     It is a federal program which allocates some $4.3 billion in stimulus money to help turn around schools that lag in achievement.   It has been reported that no more than 20 states are likely to be eligible to participate in the grant program.  The duration of funding under the program is two years after which states and local governments must show how reforms will be continuously funded.

How much money will Louisiana get in Race to the Top funding?


   As required by section 14006(c) of the ARRA, Louisiana will be required to use at least 50 percent of the award to provide subgrants to local educational agencies (LEAs), including public charter schools identified as LEAs under State law. The remaining 50 percent of the funds are available to the State for State-level activities and for disbursements to LEAs and other eligible entities under such formulas, competitive processes, or other mechanisms as the State may propose in its plan.   The State Superintendent will probably decide how the other 50 percent is distributed.


Who will be included in formulating the RTTT Application?


   Throughout the federal announcement are scattered references to required local stakeholder participation in and support of the state application.


Sect B (d) Application Requirements details as follows: “… (d) The State must describe its statewide support from stakeholders and LEAs, including public charter schools identified as LEAs under State law (as described in Overall Selection Criterion (E)(3)).


How do local education agencies fit into the application process? 


   Election criteria include:

“(E)(3) Enlisting statewide support and commitment: The extent to which the State has demonstrated commitment, support, and/or funding from the following key stakeholders:

    (i) The State's teachers' union(s) and charter school authorizers;

    (ii) Other State and local leaders (e.g., business, community, civil rights, and education association leaders);

    (iii) Grant-making foundations and other funding sources; and

    (iv) LEAs, including public charter schools identified as LEAs under State law, with special emphasis on the following: High-need LEAs (as defined in this notice); participation by LEAs, schools, students, and students in poverty; and the strength of the Memoranda of Understanding between LEAs and the State, which must at a minimum be signed by the LEA superintendent (or equivalent), the president of the local school board (if relevant), and the local teachers' union leader (if relevant).” (Sect E Overall Selection Criteria)


What are the consequences for not meeting your goals?


   The U.S. Department will require reporting and performance measures of all LEAs that participate.  If the Department determines that a State is not meeting its goals, timelines, budget, or annual targets or is not fulfilling other applicable requirements, the Department will take appropriate action, which could include a collaborative process between the Department and the State, or enforcement measures with respect to this grant such as placing the State in high-risk status, putting the State on reimbursement payment status, or delaying or withholding funds.


Will the State or Federal Government exercise control over the schools electing to participate in RTTT?


   One of the major strings attached to the Race to the Top grant is the implicit strengthening of state and federal influence over local school operations.  A key question for local education policy-makers is whether or not the rewards of the grant are sufficient to offset the long-term costs.


Will Charter Schools be favored in the Race to the Top funding?


   Built into the highly prescriptive guidelines is a condition that provides charter schools supports that Louisiana denies its traditional public schools.


  “(D)(2) Increasing the supply of high-quality charter schools:

              (iv) The extent to which the State provides charter schools with facilities funding (for leasing facilities, purchasing facilities, or making tenant improvements), assistance with facilities acquisition, access to public facilities, the ability to share in bonds and mill levies, or other supports; and the extent to which the State does not impose any facility-related requirements on charter schools that are stricter than those applied to traditional public schools. The state does not currently provide facilities to its local school boards but under this grant it might have to provide them to charter schools!


What must a school board do to transform one of its schools to meet RTTT guidelines?


“(D)(3) Turning around struggling schools: \15\ The extent to which the State has a high-quality plan and ambitious yet achievable annual targets to (i) identify at least the lowest-achieving five percent of the persistently lowest-performing schools (as defined in this notice) or the lowest-achieving five schools, whichever is larger; and (ii, ) Putting in place new leadership  and a majority of new staff, new governance and improved instructional programs, and providing the school with flexibilities such as the ability to select staff, control its budget, and expand student learning time; or

     “Converting them to charter schools or contracting with an education management organization (EMO); or

     “Closing the school and placing the school's students in high-performing schools; or

     “To the extent that these strategies are not possible, implementing a school transformation model that includes: Hiring a new principal, measuring teacher and principal effectiveness (as defined in this notice), rewarding effective teachers and principals (as defined in this notice), and improving strategies for recruitment, retention, and professional development; implementing comprehensive instructional reform, including an improved instructional program and differentiated instruction; and extending learning time and community-oriented supports, including more time for students to learn and for teachers to collaborate, more time for enrichment activities, and on-going mechanisms for family and community engagement.”


What did a similar conversion cost the Orleans Parish School Board in the formation of the RSD?

   Orleans Parish chartered three-fourths of its schools and paid out $6 million more to charters than it receives under the poorly written charter funding legislation.  Orleans Parish under a former reform superintendent conducted mass firings of teachers and staff to effect regime change like that being recommended in RTTT and is still dealing with crippling lawsuits that have cost the district upwards of $30 million.  Analysis of the guidelines presents a number of key considerations that school board members should take in coming to a decision on the grant opportunity.


Where will funding come from when the RTTT funds discontinue in two years?


“….(iii) Use the economic, political, and human capital resources of the State to continue the reforms funded under the grant after the period of funding has ended;

    (iv) Collaborate with other States on key elements of or activities in the State's application; and

    (v) Coordinate, reallocate, or repurpose education funds from other sources to align with the State's Race to the Top goals, as outlined in its plans.”  


School board members must be cognizant that Louisiana law protects all public agencies except school boards from outside mandated costs.  The follow-up requirement detailed in iii (above) make it clear that grants depend on a future commitment that cannot now be defined or established.  These funding provisions impose large obligations on Louisiana and its LEAs to alter spending plans that historically have shown themselves to produce solid achievement gains for a majority of Louisiana students.



What new testing requirements will be imposed in RTTT to evaluate performance outcomes?


     One obstacle facing the LEAs, that do participate, deals with USDOE definitions of rapid time reporting of assessments of student achievement.  The USDOE defines rapid time as follows: “...Rapid-time, in reference to reporting and availability of school-and LEA-level data, means that data is available quickly enough to inform current lessons, instruction, and related supports; in most cases, this will be within 72 hours of an assessment or data gathering in classrooms, schools, and LEAs.”


In view of the fact that the Louisiana LEAP, iLEAP and GEE results lag by several months test administration, it seems a high reach to assume this condition can be met.


How will local School Boards participate in formulating Louisiana’s Race to the Top plan?


   Promised participation of LEAs in preparation of a Louisiana proposal has, to date, been far below expectations and consist of a very brief PowerPoint outline of RTTT goals.  No LEA input into program development has been solicited, and no review of progress in development of a proposal offered.


In light of the short period allowed by the U.S. Department of Education for preparing an application, and the lack of transparency of the Louisiana Department of Education proposal development, it is hard to see how local education agencies can be expected to evaluate costs and benefits from the proposed grant.  Long range costs, such as continued development of the reforms initiated under the grant after its two year funding cycle is complete, cannot be reasonably estimated and can be very significant burdens.