La. again passed over for 'R2T'

by Nathan Stubbs

Louisiana was once again passed over in the U.S. Department of Educations's "Race To The Top" competition. Louisiana was once again passed over in the U.S. Department of Educations's "Race To The Top" competition. The state was one of 19 finalists in the second round of the competition. The 10 winners announced this morning are the District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina, Ohio and Rhode Island.

R2T awards states that best present plans for school innovation based on criteria set by the federal government. For the second and final round, the winning states will share $3.4 billion in funding to implement their plans. Delaware and Tennessee were the only winners in the first round of the competition. Louisiana had high hopes for the program, with state Superintendent Paul Pastorek advocating for system reforms he felt would better the state's chances. Lafayette was one of 28 total school districts participating in the state's application for R2T.

The availability of the funding nonetheless unleashed a wave of reforms nationwide - including in Louisiana, which instituted new teacher accountability and school board reform measures - as states raced to make their applications more attractive.

Despite the snub from Uncle Sam, Pastorek today insists in a press release that Louisiana's momentum toward education reform will not be abated:

While we had hoped for a different outcome, make no mistake about it, Louisiana is already in the midst of implementing this plan at every level and from every angle, and we have no intention of pulling back. We will have to identify alternative sources of resources. But there is broad acknowledgement across the country, and even across the world, that Louisiana is a trailblazer in implementing effective education reform strategies. And there is wide scale recognition across Louisiana's education community, particularly in those districts and schools that signed on to our application, that this plan is integral to improving our schools. In fact, our reform plan is the result of the deep-rooted commitment of educators in our state to adopt and implement meaningful and necessary reforms. And given their dedication to their students, we'll not see them back off these objectives either.

One possible knock on Louisiana's application was Lafayette Parish's insistence on an opt-out clause in its R2T application, which Pastorek's office warned would diminish the quality of the state's bid since one of Louisiana's biggest school systems wasn't embracing the process. Pastorek has enjoyed a chilly relationship with many school systems statewide, and has been the subject of much ire from the Louisiana School Boards Association as well as some teacher unions.

Nonetheless, today's announcement by the federal government prompted a rare dose of accord among the state education department and three major educator groups.

From the same press release:

The Louisiana Federation of Teachers remains committed to including educator voice and involvement in any initiatives that affect our profession. Despite this development, we will continue to partner with the state and local school districts in achieving our goal of a quality education for all children.
- LFT President Steve Monaghan

Louisiana principals are committed to our state's education reform plan. Our support was not contingent on winning. Certainly, with today's announcement, our work may be more difficult, but we believe the time is now. We will execute this plan and realize dramatic improvements in student outcomes.
- Andrea Martin, executive director, Louisiana Association of Principals

I've been moved by the commitment of educators to this bold plan for improving support to the classroom and students. This is our state's education reform plan, and it will be our strategy for improving academic performance. I am proud to still be part of this process.
- Kathy Campbell, executive director of the Associated Professional Educators of Louisiana