Finalists for the White House's 2012 Race to the Top grant competition were released Monday. To no one's surprise, the Los Angeles Unified School District is not a contender.
In a phone call with The Huffington Post, LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy feigned shock at the news. "We're not a finalist? I'm shocked!" he said, jokingly. But Deasy also expressed sadness that the district's application, which did not have the required support of the United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA) teachers' union, did not place in the contest.
"It is sad, but I understand the department's decision-making process," he said, referring to the Department of Education. "It's a sad loss of opportunity for the students of LAUSD."
Just days before the Oct. 30 grant application deadline, Deasy said UTLA was stalling on an endorsement of LAUSD's application to the highly competitive $40 million grant program.
"We don't have a signature yet, Deasy told the Los Angeles Daily News. "I don't understand why they can't say yes to free money."
Though the deadline was eventually extended in consideration of schools that were affected by Hurricane Sandy, it still wasn't enough time for LAUSD and UTLA to come to an agreement over the application.
Deasy and Warren Fletcher, president of UTLA, disagreed publicly over why the two organizations couldn't see eye-to-eye on the grant application. Deasy claimed that Race To The Top's requirement for what he called “a new, robust teacher evaluation program" was a sticking point for the union. But Fletcher said the grant money came with the need for "a lot of bureaucracy" that would remain in place after the money was gone.
With the clock ticking down, Deasy eventually decided to submit the grant application without the UTLA's blessing. His statement on the decision, via the Los Angeles Times:
I have instructed staff to submit an application with all required signatures except that of the teachers union ... I want to make the case that here in Los Angeles, after months of trying repeatedly to form a partnership for youth and faculty on this issue our students should not be penalized due to the absence of a [union] signature.
Fletcher could not be reached for comment, but a UTLA spokeswoman did refer The Huffington Post to a statement the union released on Nov. 1. It reads, in part:
UTLA decided not to sign the Race to the Top grant application because it would not be fiscally responsible. It would cost more money than it brings in. No matter what John Deasy says, it will not put teachers in classrooms. It would cost more than $43.3 million to implement the $40 million RTTT grant, resulting in a net loss of more than $3 million dollars---dollars schools desperately need. The much bigger fiscal problem is that the grant commits LAUSD to ongoing costs long after the grant money runs out. Those required costs are for bureaucracy and not for classroom instruction.
If LAUSD had won, the grant money would have funded programs to help some 25,000 students in under-performing schools who are at risk of dropping out. "We hope that other philanthropists might be able to fund this work," Deasy said Monday.
One LA-area school was named a finalist in the Race To The Top competition: Animo Leadership High School, a charter school in Inglewood affiliated with the Green Dot charter school organization. Green Dot's application, which the school organization crafted with Green Dot's teacher union, included a plan to boost science and social studies courses and expand students' access to technology.
Three California school districts were also named finalists in the 2012 competition: Galt Joint Union, Lindsay Unified and New Haven Unified.
Previous Race To The Top competitions were open only to states, but the 2012 contest challenged individual school districts to craft programs targeting specific student populations within their community. The new rules were a game-changer for school districts in cities like Houston, Texas -- which ultimately did not qualify to be a finalist. Texas, led by Gov. Rick Perry (R), has refused to apply for grant money in protest of what they see as a heavy federal hand in state education affairs.
This year, 61 finalists were picked from 372 applicants. Between 15 and 25 of the finalists will be selected to receive four-year awards ranging from $5 million to $40 million, depending on the size of the program outlined in the grant application. Winners will be announced by Dec. 31, 2012.
“These finalists are setting the curve for the rest of the country with innovative plans to drive education reform in the classroom,” U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said in a statement. “This competition was designed to support local efforts to close the achievement gap and transform the learning environment in a diverse set of districts, but no matter who wins, children across the country will benefit from the clear vision and track records of success demonstrated by these finalists.”