Walter Pierce

LSBA to school systems: Be wary of R2T

by Walter Pierce

The Louisiana School Boards Association is advising public school systems across the state to pass on federal Race to the Top grants, warning that securing such funding could have long-term fiscal consequences. According to the U.S. Department of Education, Race to the Top is “a national competition among states for $4.35 billion under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) to improve education quality and results statewide.”

Race to the Top funding, according to the DOE, is based on four principles:
â- Spending funds quickly to save and create jobs
â- Improving student achievement through school improvement and reform
â- Ensuring transparency, reporting and accountability
â- Investing the one-time funding thoughtfully

“After conducting three meetings, largely devoted to R2T consideration, the board of directors concluded that they should caution the 69 local boards to evaluate very carefully before making final decisions to participate,” a Monday press release reads, predicting that local boards would be required to “continue to fund programs initiated with R2T grants once the four-year term of the grant expires. State and federal budgetary forecasts, board members concluded, likely will not yield new appropriations and local school board members would be required to ask for tax increases.” Earlier this year, Gov. Bobby Jindal also rejected some ARRA money for extending unemployment benefits based on the same reasoning: When the federal money runs out, Louisiana could be on the hook to continue the benefits at taxpayer expense.

A spokeswoman for the Lafayette Parish School System says the LPSS will pursue R2T fundings. "Yes, our plans haven't changed," writes Marketing Coordinator Angie Simoneaux in an e-mail response Tuesday to the INDsider.

The LSBA also struck a glancing blow at state Superintendent Paul Pastorek, with whom the group has been at loggerheads over Pastorek’s school board reform efforts, going so far as to call for Pastorek’s resignation last summer following the legislative session: “LSBA has, in the past, suggested that collaboration with the current leadership of the state department of education requires development of more trust than currently exists,” Monday’s press release states.

Pastorek was quick to respond to the LSBA with a release of his own: “Despite our progress over the last ten years, as noted by LSBA, the reality is that 215,000 or one third of our students are still below grade level,” Pastorek responds. “This is unacceptable, and our children cannot wait for us to ease ourselves away from the status quo. If Louisiana is genuinely committed to moving off the bottom of the list in state education rankings, we must pursue dramatic change and improvements. And we must do so with a sense of urgency.”