Orwell Award Announcement SusanOhanian.Org Home

NCLB Outrages

Race to the Top participation sought by 23 Louisiana school districts

Ohanian Comment:There's some good news here:

The Louisiana School Boards Association has opposed the state's grant application over concerns that the federal requirements come with too many strings attached and could create long-term uncompensated expenses for school districts. Sixteen districts, including the St. Tammany system, have decided not to participate.

The 17-member Board of Directors of LSBA voted unanimously that the research underpinning of the proposed federal grant program is insufficient to compensate for the long-term fiscal risk to public school systems.

I admit to mixed feelings here. I worked for many years in a district that went after every federal grant available--and once the grant ended, the program, no matter how beneficial to children, ended with it. The district never had any commitment to continuing a good thing--if the Feds weren't sending in $$$$$. That's why I've taught at so many grade levels. I was good at starting up new programs.

I mention this just to say that I have few illusions about the LSBA, but hey, whatever, I applaud anybody who turns down RttT.

By Robert Travis Scott

As Louisiana maneuvers to compete for federal Race to the Top education grants, the state Department of Education reported Friday that 23 school districts, representing 43 percent of the public school population, have signed up to participate in the program.

The state's application for a $300 million piece of the $4.35 billion program is due by Jan. 19. School districts that want a grant must sign an agreement with the state by Monday to be included in the application, and several more districts are expected to join the effort by then.

The Louisiana School Boards Association has opposed the state's grant application over concerns that the federal requirements come with too many strings attached and could create long-term uncompensated expenses for school districts. Sixteen districts, including the St. Tammany system, have decided not to participate.

State officials, who had hoped to get enough districts to cover somewhere between 25 percent to 50 percent of the students in Louisiana's public schools, appeared to be satisfied with the results so far. There is no federal requirement to meet a student population threshold to make an application, agency spokeswoman Rene Greer said.

One requirement is that a state's plan has to include at least 5 percent of its persistently low-performing schools, a goal that will be easily surpassed by the state's application.

If Louisiana is selected by the U.S. Department of Education for the grants, about half the money would be distributed to districts to help with programs aimed at helping the poorest performing schools improve their rankings and student test results. Stronger accountability measures and teacher evaluations would be part of the process.

The state initially had foreseen a grant program that would target specific schools, but the strategy now is to award grants mainly to the districts and offer supplemental grants for individual school improvements. Most or all the districts that have signed up for the program likely would get a share of the grants, officials said.

Half of the $300 million would be spent by the state Department of Education for various statewide programs, such as a data system tracking student performance over time, education consultants or training.

Nolton Senegal, executive director of the school board association, said his 17-member board voted unanimously in December to oppose Race to the Top, but the association does not speak for individual districts.

"Folks are just really fearful that, a lot of times when they put these unfunded mandates on these school districts, they have to go back to the taxpayers and ask for increases in taxes," Senegal said.

The federal requirements might also affect laws regarding teacher tenure, Senegal said.

The schools boards for Orleans and Plaquemines parishes are expected to meet Monday to address their applications. The Jefferson Parish system and the state-run Recovery School District, which oversees most of the public schools in New Orleans, already are signed up to participate in the program.

In addition, the Department of Education lists these districts among the systems that plan to participate in the program: Ascension, Assumption, City of Baker, City of Monroe, DeSoto, East Baton Rouge, East Carroll, East Feliciana, Iberville, Lafayette, Lafourche, Madison, Sabine, St. Helena, St. John the Baptist, St. Landry, St. Mary, Tangipahoa, Terrebonne, Vernon and West Baton Rouge.

Statewide, 66 percent of public school students are enrolled in the federally backed free or reduced-cost lunch program. But among the districts that so far have decided to participate in Race to the Top, 72 percent of the students are eligible for the lunch program, an indication that those districts tend to have more than the average number of students of poor families.

To participate, a district must sign a partnership agreement with the state. Those agreements must be signed by a district president and superintendent. In most cases those signatures have been backed by a district board vote in favor of participating. Greer said a handful of districts have signed agreements without a board vote.

In addition to St. Tammany, the districts that have rejected Race to the Top are Beauregard, Catahoula, Evangeline, Franklin, Iberia, Jefferson Davis, Lincoln, Natchitoches, Ouachita, Rapides, St. Martin, Union, Vermillion, Winn and Webster.

— Robert Travis Scott


This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. We are making such material available in our efforts to advance understanding of education issues vital to a democracy. We believe this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. For more information click here. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.