- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 19, 2010

President Obama announced on Tuesday that he will ask Congress for $1.35 billion to extend an education grant program for states, saying that getting schools right “will shape our future as a nation.”

Mr. Obama outlined the proposal, which will be part of his budget request for this year, at the Graham Road Elementary School in the Falls Church area of Fairfax County, where he also held a short discussion with sixth-graders.

The $787 billion economic stimulus program that Mr. Obama signed into law soon after taking office included $4.3 billion in competitive grants for states, nicknamed the “Race to the Top” fund. States must amend education laws and policies to compete for a share of the money.

The deadline to apply for the program is Tuesday, and officials expect more than 30 states to apply. The Education Department is expected to announce its first of two rounds of awards in April. Mr. Obama has said that not all who enter will get a grant.

The president said that extending the program would allow more states to win grants. He also wants to use some of the $1.35 billion for a similarly competitive grant program for local school districts.

“Offering our children an outstanding education is one of our most fundamental — perhaps our most fundamental — obligations as a country,” Mr. Obama said in brief remarks. “Countries that out-educate us today will out-compete us tomorrow, and I refuse to let that happen on my watch.”

With the grant programs, Mr. Obama is trying to make federal education spending more of a competitive endeavor to encourage states and school districts to do better, rather than a solely formula-driven effort in which states and districts look forward to receiving a certain amount of money each school year, regardless of how good a job they do educating students.

To that end, Mr. Obama sees the use of student test scores to judge teacher performance and the creation of charter schools, which are funded with public money but operate independently of local school boards, as solutions to the problems that plague public education.

National teachers unions disagree. They argue that student achievement amounts to much more than a score on a standardized test and that it would be a mistake to rely heavily on charter schools.

The “Race to the Top” fund — and the opportunity to compete for the billions of dollars it holds — was designed to encourage states to rework their education systems and bring them more in line with Mr. Obama’s vision. Education is largely a state and local responsibility.

So far, more than a dozen states have changed laws or policies to link data on student achievement to the performance of teachers and principals, or pave the way for opening more charter schools.

Rep. George Miller, California Democrat and chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, called the administration’s plans “exciting.”

Mr. Obama is expected to send Congress his 2011 budget proposal sometime next month.

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