December 14, 2009
Baton Rouge—Louisiana School Boards Association has determined that it is not in the best long term interest of public education to support the federal Race to the Top program.
LSBA firmly agrees that change in public school education has brought growing student achievement and recognition, nationally, but following careful evaluation of the changes proposed in the Race to the Top stimulus grant program, at a weekend meeting in Baton Rouge, the 17-member Board of Directors of LSBA voted unanimously that the research underpinning of the proposed federal grant program is insufficient to compensate for the long-term fiscal risk to public school systems.
Following lengthy debate and a detailed evaluation of the latest federal and state documentation, the LSBA board concluded that, while requirements and penalties are clearly spelled out, there are too many still to be defined elements that require "collaboration in good faith.”
After conducting three meetings, largely devoted to R2T consideration, the board of directors concluded that they should caution the 69 local boards to evaluate very carefully before making final decisions to participate.
"As always, local school boards must continue to make decisions on the costs, the consequences, and the benefits to students,” said Nolton Senegal, Sr., executive director of LSBA.
A key consideration is the requirement that local school boards must continue to fund programs initiated with R2T grants once the four-year term of the grant expires. State and federal budgetary forecasts, board members concluded, likely will not yield new appropriations and local school board members would be required to ask for tax increases.
"The seven points that require good faith "collaboration” that are contained in the proposed state agreement are likely to have serious consequences to local education stakeholders and the children they are dedicated to educate,” he added.
LSBA has, in the past, suggested that collaboration with the current leadership of the state department of education requires development of more trust than currently exists.
Ad 1 LSBA non-support
Board members exchanged a number of reports of official pressuring to set aside reservations and to embrace the proposed grant program. Some members have been warned that school improvement grant availability under the federal ESEA program may be put in jeopardy if their boards are not involved in R2T. The state BESE board, however, was told last Wednesday that this is not the case.
The LSBA board of directors urged its member boards, in reaching individual decisions, to carefully consider the unanticipated consequences that can’t now be clearly recognized.
Aside from investing in the Louisiana Department of Education the right to determine causes for which grant dollars spent in pursuit of R2T goals might be reclaimed, there are numerous other proposed governance issues and inequities in how the dollars will be divided between participating districts.
LSBA’s directors expressed the opinion that the dollars are badly needed at the local level to expand programs that are already showing a parade of improvements in student performance.
"Change in Louisiana began more than 10 years ago,” Senegal recounted, "and the beneficial effects are showing clearly in the results. The Race to the Top changes proposed do not rest on proven research and have been challenged by well recognized national authorities.”
LSBA staff is preparing detailed comment to be submitted to the December 7, state solicitation, Senegal added.