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August 17, 2009

"Rabid Dog" Approach to Getting Federal Dollars for Education

OLYMPIA, WA (N3) - Governor Chris Gregoire is convening a task force to pursue "Race to the Top" money. These are federal stimulus dollars designed to spur education reform at the state level. But even the Governor acknowledges Washington may not qualify for the first-round of funding. One vocal Washington politician says it's a wake-up call to the education establishment. The first round of "Race to the Top" grants will come this fall, the second round next spring. KPLU's Austin Jenkins has more.

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Freshman lawmaker Reuven Carlyle says Washington state ought to set a goal to be.

Rep. Reuven Carlyle, D- Seattle: "The number one state in the nation in winning competitive grant dollars for education."

Carlyle, a Seattle Democrat, is pained that Washington isn't better positioned to win some of the billions of dollars in federal "Race to the Top" grants.

Rep. Reuven Carlyle, D- Seattle: "I think when you look at the Obama Administration criteria, every single one of them are achievable, but it takes a rabid-dog, hard-core, focused, aggressive effort."

That's in part because some of the criteria for winning the money represent a political landmine. For instance, the Obama administration wants states to tie teacher pay to student performance in the classroom. That's traditionally been a non-starter with Washington's powerful teachers union, the Washington Education Association. Rich Wood is a spokesman.

Rich Wood, WEA spokesman: "When it comes to tying teacher pay directly to student test scores, I think we would probably oppose that. But again it's a discussion that we need to have and there are a lot of different proposals and a lot of different options."

The question becomes with so much federal money on the line, would majority Democrats in Washington buck the union - a key ally and major campaign contributor?

Another requirement to qualify for "Race to the Top" dollars is that states allow charter schools. Oregon and Idaho have them, but not Washington. Democratic Governor Chris Gregoire is already tamping down expectations that Washington will qualify for the first round of federal education grants.

Gov. Chris Gregoire: "I still think we've got our work cut out for us. We're going to try in round one, if not successful there and it's possible we will not be successful, then we have some work to do legislatively to ensure we will be eligible for round two."

Education officials in Oregon and Idaho seem a bit more optimistic. Republican Tom Luna is Idaho's Superintendent of Public Instruction. He says his state's education goals are already in-line with the Obama administration's expectations.

Tom Luna, Idaho Supt. of Public Instruction: "Fortunately for Idaho the kinds of things that they're looking for are the kinds of things we've been working on for a number of years: pay-for-performance for teachers, expanding choice in public education through more charter schools, more accountability down to the student level."

Luna says it's possible the first round of "Race to the Top" grants will go to large urban states, rather than small rural ones like his. Nonetheless the irony here is that the Northwest's reddest state may be better poised to get money from a Democratic president than its bluer neighbors. I'm Austin Jenkins in Olympia. © Copyright 2009, N3


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