Connecticut learned last week that it had lost out on its second bid to secure up to $195 million in federal Race to the Top stimulus funding, which is designed to foster education reform around the country. Earlier this year, the Democratic Legislat
Connecticut learned last week that it had lost out on its second bid to secure up to $195 million in federal Race to the Top stimulus funding, which is designed to foster education reform around the country. Earlier this year, the Democratic Legislature worked with Republican Governor M. Jodi Rell to enact education reform legislation designed specifically to improve Connecticutâs chances in the competition between states for the federal funds.
State standards were revamped to better align with the goals of the federal funding. These changes included stricter requirements for graduating high school seniors starting in 2018 and a new teacher evaluation system pegged more directly to student achievement. The hope was that Race to the Top funding would arrive just as $271 million in federal stabilization funds propping up the stateâs wobbly Education Cost Sharing (ECS) program ran out. Even with the expected $195 million that now will never arrive, the stateâs towns and cities were facing nearly $250 million in annual funding shortfalls through unfunded state mandates and underfunded state grants, according to the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities.
Notwithstanding the optimism of state officials when the education reform legislation was enacted, Race to the Top funding was never a sure thing. Thirty-five states applied for it; just 18 states (and the District of Columbia) were selected as finalists, including all of our neighboring states, New York, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island. Already, candidates campaigning for state office are laying blame for Connecticutâs failure in this competition for funds, suggesting, with more bravado than proof, that they would have produced a different result.
Perhaps, our real failure is in chasing money rather than chasing authentic reform. Connecticutâs efforts this year to improve education in the state were the legislative equivalent of teaching to the test. The apparent object of this effort was to give the feds what we thought they wanted in a funding application rather than true innovation in our schools that will make every dollar â regardless of its origin â count for something in the development of a child. Ironically, the federal governmentâs decision to bypass Connecticut in the current round of funding may force the kind of innovation we needed to address in the first place. Tougher times and tighter budgets will demand greater accountability from school administrators and teachers. And greater accountability translates into greater public confidence and support. Once a community loses its skepticism and finds confidence, real reform becomes a possibility.
Every setback is a challenge to do better. Every disappointing end is a new starting point. We can spend our time laying blame, spinning negative news into political advantage, and otherwise wallowing in our disappointment. Or we can get on with it and do everything we can to improve our schools.