Schools arm-twisted into ‘Race to the Top’


Three recent newspaper accounts show that Minnesota schools remain wary of the federal Race to the Top grant proposal but are signing on despite these misgivings. 

This is an example of Minnesota’s poor leadership in education. Schools have been financially starved since the state “takeover” of education funding in 2003 so that even Race to the Top, with its rushed time line, with its ties to the questionable Q-Comp program, with its creation of more bureaucracy like the “Office of Turnaround Schools,” seems like a plausible way to fund education.

The following accounts show that educators know Race to the Top is a suspect program, but lawmakers have given them nowhere else to turn.

Race to the Top is part of the federal stimulus package in which the federal government will choose 10 to 15 states to receive millions of dollars in grants for the four-year program. States that want to be in it have to apply by Jan. 19. In Minnesota, school districts that want to be a part of the program have to agree to the rules by Jan. 13.

Details of the grants are sketchy and how Minnesota will implement the grants are also sketchy. The state has told districts to sign up on faith.

In Red Wing, school officials will sign a Memorandum of Agreement for Race to the Top, not because they agree with many of the program’s principles but because they need the cash.

They acknowledge that only those districts that sign the memorandum get the grant money.

“I’m very much a fan of trying to keep the door open,” Superintendent Stan Slessor told school board members.

In Crookston, school officials definitely need the money, but they don’t like how the money is ties to Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s Q Comp program. Q Comp requires districts to change the way teachers are evaluated and paid, yet doesn’t offer any way to do this that is better than the current process.

In Bemidji, school officials will participate in Race to the Top only because Minnesota is facing a deep deficit and schools aren’t likely to see any relief from the financial strangulation they have suffered since 2003.

“I’ve looked around and I don’t see any money for education in the state budget,” Superintendent Jim Hess said.