Competitive Programs Replace Civil Rights Focus in Federal Policy

Programs like Race to the Top, School Improvement Grants and the waivers from the most onerous consequences of No Child Left Behind are now the policy of the U.S. Department of Education. To qualify for these competitive funding programs, states have to agree to adopt additional standards-based reforms prescribed by the U.S. Department of Education. 

By definition, competitions create winners and losers. Why does this matter? Consider the impact on the largest federal funding stream for public education, Title I.  Title I was created in 1965 in the original Elementary and Secondary Education Act to provide federal aid for schools serving children in poverty. Although the Title I formula program is small relative to state and local funding, it is the federal government’s primary tool for equalizing educational opportunity as a civil right for every child. No Child Left Behind has never fully funded the Title I formula, but today the federal government has frozen funding for the Title I formula and makes Title I funds competitively available for states and school districts that win Race to the Top and School Improvement Grants. The trend toward competitive grants has increased the role of grant writers and consultants, but in many places children who qualify for federally funded services because they are poor have lost their services when their state did not win a Race to the Top or other federal competitive grant.

Read about the transformation of Title I into a competition in a January 7, 2013, Witness for Justice column: A System Where Every Poor Child Is a Winner

News About Federal Competitive Programs

  • UCC web page: Charter Schools and Charter Management Organizations (CMOs) Are a Form of Privatization.
  • February 19, 2013: A Congressionally appointed Equity and Excellence Commission that has been meeting for two years released its report, For Each and Every Child.  Acknowledging that test-based accountability has not sufficiently improved public schools in America’s poorest communities, members of the Commission declare that our society must address what is a deplorable 22 percent child poverty rate, highest in the industrialized world.  The report emphasizes the responsibility of governments at all levels—federal, state, and local—to ensure that children in America’s poorest communities are well served by quality, well-funded, well-staffed public schools. The UCC Justice & Witness Ministries presented testimony to the Commission because unequal access to education is among our nation’s deepest injustices.
  • February 15, 2013: Here is a ground breaking expose from Reuters on use of selection screens in a number of charter schools in locations across the United States. While charter schools must hold lotteries if there are more applicants than spaces, many of these schools are actually adding entry requirements to determine which children can enter the lottery. A must read for those concerned that public school reform today fails to serve the most vulnerable children.
  • February 2013: Diane Ravitch writes for the NY Review of Books on the problems with Race to the Top and other federal education policies that demand teachers be judged by students' standardized test scores---Holding Education Hostage.
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