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Kansas & Missouri Do Not Receive Federal Race to the Top Grants for Early Learning

Photo Credit: 123rf

Preschoolers in the Kansas City metropolitan area are among the losers in the Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge grant competition. Today the United States Department of Education named nine states as award winners, but Kansas and Missouri were not on the list.

“Education must be our national mission,” President Barack Obama said in a press release announcing the award. “All of us must work to give all our children the best education possible. And today, we’re acting to strengthen early childhood education to better prepare our youngest children for success in school and in life.”

Unfortunately, the scores on applications from Kansas and Missouri were not strong enough to allow young children here to benefit from “the best education possible,” as described by the President.

A number of civil rights organizations have objected to the administration’s approach to education reform, because the competition implicit in Race to the Top means that some children will be winners and some will be losers. Last year, seven civil rights organizations published a report critical of the Obama administration’s Race to the Top education reform policy.

According to that report, “The Race to the Top Fund and similar strategies for awarding federal education funding will ultimately leave states competing with states, parents competing with parents, and students competing with other students.”

Both educational and political factors may have contributed to the final decisions about which states would be grant recipients.

Missouri’s Race to the Top application fared better with the  judges than that of Kansas, although scores for both placed them well behind the nine grant winners.

More than 70 experts reviewed the state applications, rating them and commenting on their potential for educational effectiveness.

On one crucial factor, “Promoting School Readiness for Students with High Needs,” Kansas received a “No” vote from the judges. Kansas earned its highest percentage of points in categories such as articulating rationale for reform, demonstrating past commitment to early learning and developing a budget. None of the five judges reviewing Kansas’ application thought it demonstrated an understanding of the status of children’s learning and development at kindergarten entry.

Missouri earned its highest percentage of points for the effectiveness of a quality rating and improvement system, developing workforce knowledge and competency and demonstrating past commitment to early learning. The five judges reviewing Missouri’s application did think it demonstrated willingness to promote school readiness for children with high needs. The state did not attempt to demonstrate an understanding of the status of children’s learning and development at kindergarten entry.

Despite the fact that the peer review process was supposed to preclude political influence on decision making, there are some interesting correlations between statewide politics and this round or Race to the Top grant award winners.

Of the nine states receiving grants ranging from $44- to $69-million from this Democratic administration, seven voted for the Democrat in the last four presidential elections. The other two were swing states. None had a record of voting for Republican presidents since 1996.

Art Credit: KC Education Enterprise based on a map from Wikimedia Commons

Race to the Top grant-winning states included the Democratic states of California, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Rhode Island and Washington. Swing states were North Carolina and Ohio, both of which voted for Obama by less than 6 percent.

Art Credit: KC Education Enterprise based on a map from Wikimedia Commons

Of the 28 losing states, six (including Kansas) voted Republican, six (including Missouri) voted Republican most of the time, two voted Republican half of the time, two voted for the Democrat most of the time and 10 voted for the Democrat. Of the swing states in this group, only Florida voted for Obama in 2008.

Judges’ scores for applications from states receiving Early Learning Challenge grants ranged from 269.6 to 243.6. Kansas’ application, which ranked 33rd out of 37 applications, received 150 points, while Missouri’s application earned it a ranking of 24 and 197.8 points.

The report critical of the Race to the Top program is Framework for Providing All Students an Opportunity to Learn through Reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Civil rights organizations signing on to the publication of this report were:

The U.S. Department of Elementary and Secondary Education announced the nine recipients of Race to the Top Grants Early Learning Challenge Grants Friday, Dec. 16.
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About jwmartinez

JoLynne is a journalist and educator. She holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Kansas and a Master of Arts in Teaching from Park University and is certified to teach high school journalism and English. Former employment includes work for Cable News Network and the University of Missouri-Kansas City in addition to freelancing for clients such as the Kansas City Star and The Pitch.

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