Washington News
seattlepi.com, July 27, 2010

Washington state not a finalist for federal grant


SEATTLE -- Although Washington state is not a finalist in the federal Race to the Top education grant competition, state officials said Tuesday they would continue down the path they have laid out for education reform.

"When we put together our application, we were committed, win or lose, to making sure we would carry out education reform our way, the Washington way," Gov. Chris Gregoire and Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn said in a joint statement.

U.S. Education Secretary announced the finalists Tuesday morning. Eighteen states and the District of Columbia have a chance to win a share of $3.4 billion.

The states are: Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and South Carolina.

Dorn said in a telephone interview that he believed Washington was not chosen as a finalist because its application did not include a plan for allowing charter schools in the state.

Washington voters have rejected charter schools two times, and Dorn and the governor thought a third fight would waste valuable reform time. Dorn said the diverse group putting together the state's application made a decision early on to do what is best for Washington.

Expanding the use of charter schools was just one way to gain points on a Race to the Top application - 40 points out of a possible 500 total - but every finalist except Kentucky had added or expanded charter schools before turning in their application, Dorn noted.

The competition was designed to reward ambitious reforms aimed at improving struggling schools and closing the achievement gap. Washington's application included new teacher and principal evaluations; a focus on science, math and technology; and a new school accountability system to force struggling schools to make dramatic reforms.

"There are some things that will still move. It just won't move as fast with the resources not there," Dorn said. "We'll move on, we'll move forward, and we'll do a good job for kids."

State Sen. Rosemary McAuliffe, chair of the Senate Early Learning and K-12 Education Committee, said lawmakers were committed to education reform, especially the efforts to help the lowest performing students rise to their potential, and they would find the money to make reform happen.

Lisa Macfarlane, with statewide group League of Education Voters, said the announcement from Washington, D.C., was disappointing but the results from Race to the Top in Washington state are positive despite the loss.

"This Race to the Top competition has leveraged more change than we would have thought possible," she said.

The president of Washington's largest teachers' union said the effort had one other positive result: fruitful collaboration between the governor, the Legislature, parents, other education advocacy groups, local school districts and the Washington Education Association, representing teachers.

"The application process itself proves that we can and will continue to work together to continuously improve public education across Washington," Mary Lindquist said.

Two states, Tennessee and Delaware, were awarded a total of $600 million in the first round of the competition.

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