Will Race to the Top Cash Go Far Enough?|Southern Education Desk
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Reaction is mixed on whether new federal money awarded to the Louisiana Department of Education will be enough to improve schools.
On December 23, the state announced it had qualified for more than seventeen-million-dollars in the third round of Race to the Top allotments.
But questions remain over whether the seventeen-point-four-million dollar influx will be spread too thin.
Third Grade Students at Delhi Charter School
The Delhi Charter School is one of 48 Louisiana recipients of Race to the Top cash.
Philley says mini-laptop computers are on her wish-list.
“Right now we’re sharing a set of Neo-laptops with the other third grade class. So we only have them every other day. And we use them to take our accelerated reading test; we use them for math facts in a flash, which is addition, subtraction, multiplication, division. And it’s on their own level because you can put the kid’s name in there. We use key words to learn the location of things on a keyboard, which will help in keyboarding later on computers. And, also the alpha words, where you can just type in your own things. We use it for our spelling words.”
But this school, along with other successful applicants in the state, will have to be frugal.
Delhi Charter school headmaster, Philip Gaharan, says the grant will be spread over four years.
“We’re talking about – at this school – not a whole lot of money, $12,553, which will enhance some of the classrooms. We’ll put all of the money into the classroom. It’ll either go into computers or some type of technology.
Districts and charter schools may have to pinch pennies, but some who monitor education policy say the Race to the Top grant is a good start.
Chris Tessone is the director of finance at the conservative Thomas B. Fordham educational think-tank.
He says that, state-wide, the grant will provide educators valuable advantages.
“The $17.4 million certainly doesn’t look like a lot of money. It’s about $67 per student in a Race to the Top district – not all districts in the state are participating in Race to the Top. But I think that the Louisiana Plan has smart ways of spending that. The programs to watch are EAGLE, which is a student assessment for teachers. In seeing this in other states I think this is really a game-changer for educators. It gives them access to a lot of intriguing data about where their students are relative to where they’re expected to be based on a number of factors. The state’s going to spend almost $2 million to improve that system.”
Tessone says other key expenditures include nearly four million dollars in staffing Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, or S.T.E.M. programs.
“S.T.E.M. teachers are often paid below what P.E. teachers in their district are making because they’re often more junior. And we know we need to pay these teachers what they’re worth. We need to pay them the market rate, which we’re not. So there’s a modest amount of money for incentives for science and math teachers in Louisiana’s Race to the Top application, and a lot of support for districts to learn how to hire and retain them, which I think is a really smart investment.”
But some see gaping holes in the grant.
Launa Martin teaches kindergarten; she is also the president of the Richland Federation of Teachers.
Martin says too few districts will see benefits.
“If every low socio-economic parish that did not have a good tax base, like most of the rural parishes do not, then I would think that we would need – it would be great if every parish like the one I just described could get two or three million dollars apiece.”
Louisiana Education Department documents say the Race to the Top money will benefit about thirty-seven percent of students in the public school system, and about forty-seven percent of minority students in Louisiana.