Kansas did the right thing in declining to apply for a second round of Race to the Top funding. The $4.35 million in funding – part of the American Recovery and Restoration Act more commonly known as stimulus – is to be used exclusively for education.
Kansas applied for a first round of funding, but the State Board of Education decided in April not to seek a second round of funding. Second round grant winners were announced late last month.
To be eligible for the money, states were required to adopt national education standards and tests. In some cases, that meant actually lowering individual state’s education standards. Such was the case in Massachusetts where state officials adopted nation-leading standards and testing programs and replaced them with lesser national standards.
Kansas board members from both ends of the political spectrum listed a number of different reasons for declining to apply for a second round of funding.
In the first round, Kansas scored low in providing alternative pathways for people to earn teacher’s licenses. Interim Kansas Education Commissioner Diane DeBacker said at the time that the alternate pathways to licensing would allow open the doors for those other than higher education institutions to train and license teachers.
Sally Cauble, a board member from Liberal, Kan., worried that accepting funds would lead to more centralized control of public education. It would center school control at the federal and state level rather than with local school boards and parents.
Both used sound reasoning in their desire not to seek the funds – however they missed a key reason for declining to play Washington’s game: federal funds come with strings. Not only are the funds used for the grants money the U.S. doesn’t have, but the strings attached are typically costly to taxpayers as well.
Texas’ Education Commissioner Robert Scott said the price for his state to implement standards required to receive the federal funding would cost nearly $3 billion. The average awarded to states in the second round of Race to the Top funding was $333 million.
The states that applied and fell short should be thanking their lucky stars, and Kansans should be proud that our state board made a wise decision not to even apply for the funds in the first place.