Texas Will Not Compete for Federal Education Grant

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Texas won't compete for up to $700 million in federal grant funding, Gov. Rick Perry announced today.

“Texas is on the right path toward improved education, and we would be foolish and irresponsible to place our children’s future in the hands of unelected bureaucrats and special interest groups thousands of miles away in Washington, virtually eliminating parents’ participation in their children’s education,” Perry said in a press release.

The Texas Education Agency has spent months readying an application for Race to the Top, a $4.35 billion competitive grant initiative by the U.S. Department of Education.

Texas hasn't been a frontrunner for the money since November, when Perry announced that the state would not participate in a national standards initiative or the national tests that the feds are trying to promote. The application assigns points to various system components, and that decision on standards shaved 70 points from Texas' score.

Texas Education Commissioner Robert Scott felt the points system put strings on the potential money — other states have shifted policies to gain more application points.

“It was chock full of burdens,” said Scott. “Their overall policy was to control curriculum across the country."

The feds disagree. DOE spokesman Justin Hamilton says the national curriculum has been state-driven, and that most states are excited to apply. Scott argues those states have no discretion — but that they're scrambling for funds in a tough economic year.

 “They really don’t want to do this either,” Scott said, “but they’re desperate for the money.”

The application does not list requirements; instead, it offers more points to states that fall into compliance, raising their chances at getting the money.

So what's the harm in applying?

State applications are due next week (Jan. 19), and the agency has been preparing the lengthy document for several weeks.

 “It’s a waste of taxpayer money that so much time was put into this application,” said Kirsten Gray, spokesperson for the Texas Democratic Party.  TEA confirmed that the agency has spent significant time on the application, and Gray says the application has already been put together.

“There’s just absolutely no excusable reason to not allow Texas to compete for this money,” she said.

Others agree.

“Every reason that I’ve heard so far to turn down the money makes no sense,” said Rep. Scott Hochberg, D-Houston, who chairs the House Appropriations Sub-Committee on Education.

Hochberg argues Perry’s decision was not motivated by policy.

“I think it’s all about politics because it makes absolutely no sense to not even apply for a significant amount of money that can be used to help our schools,” he explained.

The Hutchison campaign had no comment on the Race for the Top program, but campaign spokesman Joe Pounder said they would release a statement after Perry's press conference.

Perry can count on support from at least one source, and an unusual one, at that: Texas AFT, an active teachers’ union. Texas AFT President Linda Bridges says to get the money, Texas would have to implement failed strategies like more standardized tests and more standardized merit pay.

“We think that moves us backwards,” she said. “We’ve already tried that and we don’t want to go back there.”

Bridges and Scott both said that the $700 million was a drop in the bucket when compared with the $40.2 billion education budget.

But Hochberg says the funds could have a significant impact if the state used them the right way.

After all, he said, per year the potential grant money is “roughly the total that we added to school funding in the last biennium that everyone is bragging about.”

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