Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Ante Up

cross posted at Right Michigan

Race to the Top is an incentive program designed by the Obama administration to encourage state departments of education to make what it feels are necessary educational reforms. The incentive is cold taxpayer cash, borrowed from the Chinese, to be repaid by the grandchildren of the kids needing a decent education.

Michigan, like forty other states and the District of Columbia, rushed to push through a number of changes to make it more likely to receive the promised cash infusions. As we all know, if there is one thing that Michigan needs, it is some free federal dollars.

Many of the worst performing school districts were all for the state's application and signed on even before their next check could bounce. Many other districts refused to sign on, particularly those who noted that the checks might come with the big fat mandates that the checks might not cover.

What is known by Lansing's elite is that there is money to be had and, by gum, that money is needed!

Now, at this early point in the process, months before the winners of the education lottery will be announced, we still do not know what wonderful federal reforms will be hoisted on to the backs of states and school districts that receive the money.

We do not know, for instance, what upgrades in technology will be required. We do not know, for instance, what teaching certifications will be required by the reforms. We do not know, for instance, what additional services will be required at the school buildings that up until this point were only available at other locations. We simply don't have a clue what all these requirements will be.

However, what we do know is that the state of Michigan has already launched itself into a certain number of pre-reform reforms in the hopes it might receive some of the federal funds.

This initially appears to be a four step process. First the feds announced an exciting program that would allow the states to compete for money. Second, the states make reforms in order to make it more likely to receive the funds. Then, maybe, come the funds. Then, if and when the money comes, all the mandates that came with the money must be made.

We are now nearing step three. The announcement has been made and the states have fallen all over themselves grooming their particulars. No winners have yet been announced.

But wouldn't you know it, even before one penny from Race to the Top has been received by the money changers in Lansing, the Michigan education department is asking for an additional $500,000 in order to pay for the reforms put in place to make the state more likely to get the federal cash. In the grand scheme of things, this first $500,000 is little more than a harbinger. There will be much more to come.

From the Detroit News:

New state law requires the education department to identify the lowest-performing 5 percent of schools by Sept. 1. The roughly 170 to 200 schools on the list would be placed under the supervision of a yet-to-be-established school reform office.

Flanagan wants money to hire a reform officer and staff the department with 13 employees.

Lawmakers passed the reforms in hopes of winning money from the Obama administration's Race to the Top competition.

There's no guarantee the state will win the federal money.
Instead of adding another layer of bureaucracy to our state's education system, our leaders should be passing reforms that save the state money and improve instruction. This is possible, even without federal interference.

We only need to look as far as the job that Robert Bobb is doing in the city of Detroit to know that there are hundreds of millions of dollars just waiting to be saved in education. We should have to look no farther than the average Michigan educator's salary and benefits to discover that taxpayers in the Great Lakes State are getting nailed to the wall by monolithic and under performing unions.

Our elected leaders and our hired educators are looking to Washington for help in solving many problems that can only be solved at the local level. We want their cash and we want their insight. (In truth, I think we want the cash a bit more.)

Sadly, until those federal checks start rolling in, we're going to need a quick $500,000 fix. Don't worry, the taxpayers will ante up.

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