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Education leaders need to embrace Race to Top

One of the cornerstones of a successful application for a federal Race to the Top education grant is buy-in from school districts, but so far that isn’t going so well. As of Friday, only 40 of Washington state’s 295 school districts have endorsed the pursuit of those federal dollars.

Either districts don’t believe in the reforms touted by the U.S. Education Department or school boards are planning some late cram sessions.

Hopefully, it’s the latter.

Of the 40 districts that have signed up, only a handful are in the Spokane area. None of the large districts is on the list kept by the governor’s office.

The Spokane Public Schools board is set to discuss the issue at a meeting on Wednesday. The deadline for submitting an endorsement to the governor is five days after that (May 17).

Local districts would stand to gain much-needed money if the state were awarded the full $250 million. Spokane Public Schools would get $6,396,621 over four years, Central Valley would get $1,053,794, and Mead would land $792,684, according to the governor’s office.

With or without federal aid, the state is committed to the four worthy goals emphasized in its application: being nationally competitive in math and science, ensuring kids are ready to learn by the time they enter kindergarten, closing the achievement gap regardless of student ethnicity and economic background, and making sure students are ready either for college or a technical career.

Race to the Top’s goals also dovetail with the state’s reform efforts in the areas of improved evaluations for teachers and principals, merit pay and alternative paths to teacher certification, which is important in drawing a deeper pool of candidates for math and science instruction.

Along with all of that, the state needs to find money to finance the basic education overhaul that was passed by the 2009 Legislature.

In short, we could sure use the money.

In the first round of Race to the Top awards, only two states, Delaware and Tennessee, landed grants. Both got near universal support from their school districts. Tennessee even achieved 93 percent buy-in from its teacher unions. The feds have made it clear that these endorsements are important because they signify that the state is serious about following through.

The state Legislature recently completed a session where it passed some education reforms that could give Washington state a fighting chance during the second round of Race to the Top awards, but far too many school districts appear to be shrugging off their responsibility.

Board members need to get busy because the state can’t afford to be viewed as a slacker.

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