Obama’s Race to the Top loses all funding in 2015 omnibus spending bill
President Obama and firstlLady Michelle Obama both would see key initiatives whacked if the $1.01 trillion spending bill unveiled by congressional leaders this week passes without changes in these areas: the president’s chief education initiative, Race to the Top, loses all funding, and the first lady’s effort to nutritionally improve school lunches takes a hit with language that allows schools to take their good old time about meeting a mandate on serving whole grain.
The Education Department would take a slight hit in funding; at $70.5 billion, down $133 million below the fiscal year 2014, but special education grants to states would get $25 million more than last year, up to $11.5 billion. Funding for the somewhat controversial School Improvement Grant program is maintained at $506 million. (It’s somewhat controversial because there are big questions about its overall effectiveness.)
The $4.3 billion-dollar Race to the Top was Obama’s main education initiative, first announced in 2009 as an effort to ensure that every student was “college and career ready” and to achieve “educational equity” by aggressively “turning around” the lowest-performing schools (or by closing them if they didn’t turn around fast enough.) The program was a competition among states for federal funding, with certain stipulations; states (and later districts) had to promise to implement specific school reforms favored by Education Secretary Arne Duncan in order to win the cash. The Gates Foundation awarded millions of dollars to states that sought its help in designing their Race to the Top contest entries. The program became controversial as some critics said it represented federal intrusion into local education (though states were not required to participate) and critics wondered how a competition among states – which would create winners and losers — could create educational equity.
There is also no funding for the controversial Common Core State Standards in this legislation. The development of the standards and their implementation was not federally funded, though the Obama administration did provide $360 million to two multi-state consortia that developed new Core-aligned standardized tests, which are being given to students for the first time this school year. That money had been appropriated in previous years. The administration also linked Race to the Top funding to the adoption of common standards; an early version of the first Race competition used the Common Core standards by name but, as my colleague Lyndsey Layton reported here, that was changed out of fear that “some states would consider that unwanted — and possibly illegal — interference from Washington.”
In fiscal year 2014, Race to the Top was given $250 million, according to this legislation summary, for competitive awards to states to develop or grow early childhood programs for children from low- and moderate-income families. Obama’s fiscal year 2015 budget proposal included $300 million for a proposed “Race to the Top-Equity and Opportunity.” While Race to the Top gets no funding in the 2015 omnibus bill, the administration’s Preschool Development Grants program gets $250 million for 2015.