Kansas drops out of `Race to the Top’ education competition

? Kansas has dropped out of the competition for a “Race to the Top” federal education grant.

The 9-0 decision Tuesday by the State Board of Education means Kansas will not try to win approximately $166 million in federal funds for school districts.

The decision comes at a time when Kansas schools have been hit by several rounds of funding cuts because of the state budget crisis.

But members of the Education Board voiced several problems with “Race to the Top,” which is a $4.35 billion federal grant program that the Obama administration has described as “the equivalent of education reform’s moon shot.”

Kansas failed to make the cut in the first round of competition for a slice of the grant. According to the state Department of Education, Kansas ranked 29th out of 40 states and Washington D.C. in the first round. The top 15 states and D.C. were selected as finalists. Kansas was scheduled to re-submit a proposal in June for a second round of competition.

Interim Kansas Education Commissioner Diane DeBacker indicated that Kansas had several shortcomings in the eyes of the federal grant reviewers. Two of those were that Kansas has no statewide evaluation system of teachers and principals, and no system of tying teacher compensation to student achievement, she said.

Also, Kansas scored low in providing alternative pathways for people to become licensed teachers. “The only group that issues a teacher’s license are our institutions of higher education,” DeBacker said. “They (the federal government) are saying, open up the doors and let other people train and license teachers.”

Several board members said the didn’t agree with that approach.

Other board members said the federal criteria required more centralized control of public school education, which they said is contrary to Kansas’ culture of local control.

“If you are a local control state, you are at a disadvantage,” said board member Sally Cauble, R-Liberal.

Board member David Dennis, a Republican from Wichita, said the refusal to compete for the grant “sends a signal to Washington that we don’t want to play their game.” Democrats on the board also supported not pursuing the grant.