After being denied its initial request for Race to the Top funds, the Idaho State Department of Education (SDOE) decided Friday not to seek money from the federal education program in the second round of the application process. Only two states, Delaware and Tennessee, were awarded federal dollars in the first round of grants.
The funding for Race to the Top was provided by 2009's federal stimulus bill, and amounts to $4.35 billion in total money available. In the announcement Friday, SDOE said that the burden would be too great for local school districts to apply before June 1, when grant requests are due to the U.S. Department of Education. SDOE said that local school boards, many of which are in the process of setting budgets for the next school year, are too busy to fulfill the evaluation and preparation required for the second round of applications. School districts were informed of all the work needed for the second funding requests in late April by the U.S. Department of Education.
SDOE was also critical of the rapid pace of some aspects of the Race to the Top program. If Idaho schools had applied for and been granted federal money in the second round of the process, districts would have been required to partially tie teacher and principal evaluations into student achievement and academic progress. That is a step that the SDOE is not opposed to, but one that the department believes must be carefully considered before full implementation. "While Superintendent Tom Luna is not opposed to this concept, he does not believe this a change Idaho can or should make overnight. This change will require all educational stakeholders working together to come up with a plan that best meets the needs of Idaho student," the department said in a news release.
In the second round of the application and grant process, states would be capped as to how much money they could receive by the size of each state. Idaho applied for $120 million in the first round of applications, but would be limited to requesting up to $75 million in the second. The department believes that amount would be insufficient to achieve the changes called for by the Race to the Top program. "These funding limitations make it unlikely the state will be able to improve its application while reducing its projected budget," said the release.
Superintendent of Public Instruction Luna said that he will work to instill programs desired by Idaho families and students to deliver an efficient education in the state. “I believe the Race to the Top grant program does provide opportunities for states to be innovative and forward-thinking,” said Luna. “However, throughout my administration, I have been consistent in my belief that the victory is not in asking; it is in delivering. I will not ask Idaho schools and districts to spend their precious time and resources competing for an unrealistic goal that has been set by the federal government, not by the state of Idaho. Therefore, I will continue my work as state superintendent to implement the vision, mission and goals created by Idahoans to raise student achievement and improve our public education system," said Luna.
Luna has been criticized by some around the state for the applying for the first round of federal money by those who believe education is the duty of the state of Idaho. Luna is up for re-election in November and faces an electoral challenger from Stan Olson of Boise, the superintendent of the Boise School District. Was the move by Luna not to seek federal money the second time around based solely on politics? Melissa McGrath, spokesman for SDOE, says no. "Luna has worked with educational stakeholders throughout this process, gathering feedback from educators, parents and community members as well as the federal peer reviewers. Based on this feedback, the decision was not to apply in the second round for several reasons, mainly because of the tight timeline and newly imposed funding limitations," said McGrath. She said that Luna is not opposed to applying in the third round of funding requests, but will have to evaluate that when it comes around. "Luna would consider applying for a third or future round of Race to the Top as long as the grant application is aligned with the strategic plan that has been set for Idaho’s education system going forward and doesn’t place an undue burden on Idaho’s school districts."