Monday, January 11, 2010

DFER is playing a meaningful role in many states that are competing for RttP money.

Here's a letter from DFER ED Joe Williams (there appear to be clones of him in nearly every state competing for RttT money! See below):


Dear friends:

After months of legislative work around the country, states are scrambling to meet the Jan. 19th deadline for legislative and policy changes as part of the "Race To The Top." What gets negotiated and signed in the next 12 days will largely determine which states cross the finish line with the kind of gusto it is going to take to win some serious federal dinero for public schools.

Since our last update on what states are up to (you can find that tally on our blog, there have been some rather interesting developments that we wanted to quickly highlight – particularly because they involve some serious policy/political shifts in several key states.

California – Lawmakers there yesterday shifted power away from bureaucrats and foot-dragging school boards and placed it in the hands of parents, passing new "Race To The Top" legislation which allows parents from failing schools to yank their kids out and/or vote as parents to take drastic measures at their local zoned schools. Kudos to our friends, Ben Austin, at Parent Revolution, and Sen. Gloria Romero (our September education reformer of the month - for their inspiring leadership on this one. The Governator will quickly sign the bills into law to make the Jan. 19th RTTT deadline.

Massachusetts -- Early this morning, the House passed RTTT legislation that will allow Boston school officials to shutter failing schools and convert them to new charter schools, without having to allow the teachers union to decide which schools could and couldn't be closed. Boston Mayor Tom Menino told the Boston Globe "this bill was made in Heaven." (Which probably means we better read the fine print!) The Senate previously passed its version of the RTTT bills and conferencing on the two bills was expected to start today. Legislators were on track to pass the bills into law by Jan. 14th, so that the state would have ample time to prepare its application by the Jan. 19th deadline.

New York -- Regular DFER readers know we have been frustrated for much of the year by the Empire State's unwillingness to take the reform competition seriously - particularly at a time when the state's coffers are beyond bare. But things have been moving quickly in the last month, starting with bold action by the Board of Regents in passing a series of K-12 reform recommendations. The Senate and Assembly are looking at what they can do to allow New York to apply, and earlier today Gov. David Paterson introduced a program bill that would eliminate the cap on charter schools, kill a law that bans using student performance in teacher tenure decisions, and allow the Regents to take control of persistently low-performing schools, among other things. The next week will be very interesting, as New York decides whether it wants to try to take the necessary steps to become a national leader. Stay tuned.

Tennessee -- Gov. Phil Bredesen is calling for a special session of the legislature next week in order to change several laws in time for the Jan. 19th application deadline. "The (the feds) don't want any promises for the future, they want things in law," Bredesen told reporters. One change high on Bredesen's wish-list: a change in state law to allow the use of student achievement in teacher evaluations.

We're doing our best to stay on top of the RTTT applications. Feel free to drop us a line and keep us posed on what your state us up to.

Twelve more days until the deadline!



PS-- Our federal policy director Charlie Barone has spent the last year refining his list of which states have been naughty and which have been nice when it comes to progressive education reform legislation and policies. Charlie has a good idea which states are likely to receive a lump of coal when the "Race To The Top" judges eventually come sliding down the chimney in 2010 – but he's kind of treating it like it is some kind of state secret. What we have been able to pry out of him, however, is a pretty nifty 30-page write-up on what the quintessential, reform-minded  state RTTP application looks like. (He got some help from lots of little elves from our partner reform organizations.) It's a working document, but if you'd like us to email you a PDF version on the down-low, drop an email to It makes a perfect last-minute stocking stuffer for the ed reform policy junkie in your life!

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