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Education Reporter

'Race to the Top' Initiative Offers Even More Funding
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President Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan held out in July another $4.35 billion in federal funding for K-12 schools. The "Race to the Top" initiative challenges states to compete with each other for these funds by expanding charter schools, raising academic standards, and improving teacher quality. "This competition will not be based on politics, ideology, or the preferences of a particular interest group," Obama said. "Instead, it will be based on a simple principle — whether a state is ready to do what works. We will use the best data available to determine whether a state can meet a few key benchmarks for reform, and states that outperform the rest will be rewarded with a grant."

States will share a pot of over $100 billion from the ARRA stimulus bill that passed Congress earlier this year, but that money will be divvied up by formula, and states must only comply with a few provisions to ensure they receive the funds (see "Stimulus Requires States to Put All Students on a Database").

Improving teacher quality, for many states that wish to win the "Race to the Top," may involve a movement toward merit-based pay for teachers. Obama has consistently expressed support for charter schools as well as merit pay, although these reforms are unpopular with the nation's largest teachers unions. The National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers have warmed up slightly toward charters in recent years, but both are still stone-cold on the possibility of paying higher performing teachers more than lower performing ones.

The teachers unions have traditionally represented an important and even crucial constituency for Democratic candidates. "We'll see who blinks first," wrote the editors of the Wall Street Journal after the "Race to the Top" was announced (7-30-09). "The acid test is whether Messrs. Duncan and Obama are willing to withhold money from politically important states as the calendar marches toward 2012."

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