Washington lawmakers are offering up to $700 million in educational funding to New York State, but some educational laws could disqualify the state. NY1's Educational reporter Lindsey Christ filed the following report.
The federal government is giving away $4.5 billion in education funding as part of the "Race To The Top," and New York State could get up to $700 million, if President Barack Obama's administration likes the state's application.
"It is a big load of money," says State Senator Suzi Oppenheimer, the chair of the State Senate Education Committee.
Yet some state officials wonder whether the competition rules are worth the effort. The Race to the Top competition is designed to award states with innovative educational practices, and competition guidelines say states may be ineligible if they cap the number of charter schools or prohibit teacher evaluations based on student test scores.
New York law does both, and Mayor Michael Bloomberg says that could hurt the state's chances.
“The State Legislature passed a law last year that actually tells principals: You can evaluate teachers on any criteria you want - just not on student achievement data," said the mayor last month.
That law expires in June, and state education leaders disagree over whether it will cost the state the funding.
Bloomberg has ordered City Schools Chancellor Joel Klein to start using test scores to evaluate teachers immediately, but Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch thinks the federal government will overlook the law since it's not likely to be renewed.
"We do not expect this to be an impediment to our application," says Tisch.
On Tuesday, Governor David Paterson suggested he sympathizes with teachers who don't want test scores used to evaluate them. Yet he thinks winning Race To the Top is too important, so he may try to repeal the law before it sunsets.
As for the cap on charter schools. Bloomberg says it needs to be eliminated, but Tisch and others say raising the cap is enough.
Oppenheimer says she's willing to do what it takes to get the money, but is left unsure how much policy change is expected in Washington, D.C.
"What we need - urgently, really - is clarification of what exactly is going to be required here, so if we do have to make changes, we want to know it sooner than later," says Oppenheimer.
The competition has two rounds, so if New York loses out in the first round, announced in April, there could a big push for legislative changes before the second round of applications are due in June.
But with hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funding on the line, losing either round will come at a high cost.