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VOL. 36 | NO. 43 | Friday, October 26, 2012

Would ‘Race to the Top’ survive Romney?

By Renee Elder

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Tennessee received a $501 million injection of federal education funds after winning big in the first round of Race to the Top, a program implemented by the administration of President Barack Obama.

The state Department of Education received high marks in 2010 for its commitment to education reform, teacher evaluation proposals and strategies to address low-performing schools and special programs to encourage science, technology and mathematics.

“We definitely think Race to the Top has been a success,” says Kelly Gauthier, communications director for the state Department of Education. “You can’t just point to one thing and say, ‘That’s where our Race to the Top money went.’ It has been injected into just about everything we do.”

Race to the Top largely is seen as a sequel to George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind program, whose educational mandates were not universally embraced by education leaders and some traditional Democratic constituencies, including teacher unions.

Republican contender Romney has had some nice things to say about Race to the Top, praising its charter schools, teacher evaluation standards and student-testing components. But he has criticized Race to the Top’s Common Core State Standards Initiative, which outlines what students should be learning at each grade level, saying that such decisions should be left to states and local school districts.

The issue of education arose several times during the third presidential candidate’s debate, with Obama accusing Romney of proposing cuts to education funding. Romney has not outlined a proposal for such cuts, but seems generally wary of education spending on the national level.

“I don’t like to have the federal government start pushing its way deeper and deeper into our schools. Let the states and localities do that,” Romney said during the final debate.

“The fact that both candidates have identified education as a driver of economic development is key for Tennessee,’’ says David Mansouri, director of advocacy and communications at Tennessee SCORE (State Collaborate on Reforming Education).

Mansouri says both candidates are strong supporters of education.

“They are both supportive of great teaching and high standards. Those are areas where our state has made to improve its education system,” he explains.

Tennessee Education Association officials say that organization’s position is outlined in the National Education Association’s 2012 Issue Guide, which applauds the broad goals and commitments of federal education programs but also warns that they run the risk of ignoring “the realities of school district and state capacity” and may shoot for “unrealistic outcomes.”

Romney also has been critical of the Obama administration’s support for the Pell Grant program, with funding increasing from $14.6 billion to $40 billion in the past four years.

In other areas, the two candidates have voiced similar views.

Obama has extended the tax credit for higher education enacted under George W. Bush for more two years. Both men are proponents of charter schools, although the Republican platform goes farther, giving a nod to vouchers, which would allow families to spend public funds on private schools.

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