Obama Proposes $1.35 Billion Expansion to Race to the Top Fund

President Barack Obama has called for a $1.35 billion expansion of the school reform program known as Race to the Top as part of his fiscal 2011 budget, the Washington Post reports.

The funding would be in addition to the $4.35 billion that states already are competing for under the program, which is designed to encourage and support ideas that address the problems of a public education system which most people agree is failing too many students. To date, eleven states have implemented reforms mandated by the Department of Education in order to be eligible to receive funding and more than thirty states are expected to have applied for first-round funding by yesterday's deadline. Some of the economic stimulus money allocated to the schools program will be awarded in April, with states that do not receive funding eligible to re-apply in June.

Competition for funds from next year's federal budget will be opened to school districts, eliminating the tensions that emerged between local and state governments over stimulus money distribution. The White House wants states to use Race to the Top funds to ease limits on charter schools, link teacher pay to student achievement, and move toward a national, yet-to-be adopted set of academic standards. Currently, charter schools are eligible to receive public funding but are exempt from some state or local rules and serve as an alternative to regular public schools.

The president said the program already has spurred changes, citing a Wisconsin initiative to link teacher performance to student achievement, while other states have revamped their laws to allow for more charter schools and to create new incentives to attract better teachers. In addition, forty-eight states and Washington, D.C., have joined in an effort to develop a common core of rigorous educational standards to replace the current system in which states have wildly different benchmarks for what should be taught in school.