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Legislature's 'racing,' but to where?

How rare it is to see an editorial page express such a clear-headed, ethical position on Race to the Top. Kudos. Kudos.

NOTE: There are also intelligent comments at the website.


The federal "Race to the Top" program has the Michigan Legislature racing to throw together and vote on bills. All manner of changes are being broached - not in pursuit of a better education policy, mind you, but in pursuit of the up to $400 million the feds could lavish on the state.

The Legislature's appetite for "free" money is well documented. But this episode goes beyond the usual Capitol farce. Lawmakers should be making decisions based on good policy, not on hopes for the proverbial pot of gold.

Of course, any state that bases its school year on traffic patterns at hotels isn't to be taken too seriously at any time. Fear not, parents, the House voted to largely uphold the state ban on classes prior to Labor Day, in deference to the tourism industry.

School calendars are just one facet of the "Race to the Top's" goal of transforming how America educates its kids. The guidelines call for more innovation in schools, better links between educators' performance and student performance and more help for the nation's worst schools. It's a sprawling mandate - and one that isn't without good points.

And it's all backed by $4.3 billion in federal grants to be doled out based on a state's ability to prove itself to Washington, D.C.

The first applications for the money are due to the feds on Jan. 19, 2010, which explains why legislators have their racing gear on at Christmas-time.

What they really need, though, are their thinking caps.

Is it good for schoolchildren for Michigan to block school days prior to Labor Day? The Senate rushed through their bills without even considering the state's current ban. The House, meanwhile, was looking at a full repeal, but backtracked to just allowing the worst-performing schools to start before the holiday.

Well, lawmakers, either the ban is good for schools or bad.

This week, expect a conference committee to wrestle with all this, including how much to change Michigan's charter school laws. After spending much of last Thursday amending the charter school provisions, it's unclear whether the eventual compromise will qualify under federal guidelines.

Big changes are in the offing for teacher tenure and alternative certification, too, because, well, look at all the money.

Understand, Michigan could end up with better policies out of this rush. Alternative certification is a good idea. A full repeal of the Labor Day rule would be another.

But everyone should be clear on one point: Legislators aren't doing due diligence here. They are dancing to the feds' tune in a desperate bid for cash.

— Editorial
Lansing State Journal


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