published Tuesday, June 1st, 2010

Georgia tries again for Race To The Top

Audio clip

Bert Brantley

Georgia's application filed today for a piece of the second round of federal Race to the Top funding boosts support by adding as many as three more school systems to the 23 that signed on in the first round, officials said.

Gov. Sonny Perdue's office said the added districts and a redefined budget for spending the potential $400 million in federal money, if awarded, will improve the Peach State's chances this time around.

Spokesman Bert Brantley said the application will be stronger than the first-round document, which earned the state third place in March. Tennessee and Georgia were the only two states to win money in the first round of Race competition.

"We looked at the comments and looked at potentially adding some additional districts," Mr. Brantley said. The state is "trying to bring some additional diversity to the group."

"It won't be a significant number of students," he hedged. "It won't dilute the pot by adding a lot of new districts, but it will meet some of those criticisms."

Officials in the governor's office said details about the application and the identities of the newly added school districts will be made available when the application is filed.

About $3.4 billion in federal education funding is up for grabs with more than 30 states vying for a piece of the prize.

Jeff Hubbard, president of the Georgia Educators Association, said the state's moves are not enough.

"Twenty-six out of 181 systems is still not significant buy-in," Mr. Hubbard said Friday. "They have still failed to include the educators' voices."

GAE, the Professional Association of Georgia Educators and the Georgia Federation of Teachers have all voiced opposition to the state's round two application because the state did not seek out their support, Mr. Hubbard said. He predicts a loss unless federal officials expand the number of second-round Race winners into the double digits.

Mr. Brantley said he "can't imagine" another loss if federal officials stick to predictions that between 10 and 15 states will get funding this time.

Despite the shift on participation, Mr. Brantley said Gov. Perdue's office believes that support from statewide education associations is not needed with the state's plans for major educational reforms. He said federal officials have made it clear that "bold reform" will win out over broad-based buy-in that can dilute states' proposals in the effort to generate a consensus.

Mr. Brantley points to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan's remarks in April that, "At the end of the day, we're going to (fund) the strongest proposals whether they have tremendous buy-in or not."

Mr. Brantley said Mr. Duncan's comments that "watered-down proposals with lots of consensus won't win" bodes well for Georgia because the state's application is pushing strong reforms.

But the 43,000-member GAE opposes the application over "severe concerns regarding the problems within several major goal areas and complete failure of the governor and his staff to engage our professional education association to be part of the creation and buy-in process," Mr. Hubbard stated in a May letter to Mr. Duncan.

The Professional Association of Georgia Educators, on the other hand, has concerns about how the money will be spent if awarded.

Race money would be better spent "on improving teaching and learning rather than developing and piloting exotic and poorly thought out pay for performance plans that the state cannot afford," spokesman Tim Callahan stated in a news release.

about Ben Benton...

Ben Benton is a news reporter at the Chattanooga Times Free Press. He covers Southeast Tennessee and previously covered North Georgia education. Ben has worked at the Times Free Press since November 2005, first covering Bledsoe and Sequatchie counties and later adding Marion, Grundy and other counties in the northern and western edges of the region to his coverage. He was born and raised in Cleveland, Tenn., a graduate of Bradley Central High School. Benton ...

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