The Washoe County School District still has its nose to the grindstone in compiling an application worthy of grabbing attention and much-needed dollars for President Barack Obama’s Race to the Top funding. The results from the first round of funding turned up Delaware and Tennessee as the first winners of the $4 billion grant that aggressively motivates states to become more reform-minded in the way states and school districts deliver education to the children.
An article, entitled “Delaware, Tennessee win education awards in first Race to the Top competition,” published on March 30 in the Washington Post, reported that U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan congratulated the two states for their commitment to turn around struggling schools and proactively initiate teacher evaluation systems linked to student achievement. Duncan was quoted as saying, “They have demonstrated the courage, capacity and commitment to turn their ideas into practices.”
Race to the Top, however, appeared to have very vague criteria about the sort of ideas sought from the states to engage school districts in aggressive reform to close and improve student achievement gaps and to demonstrate how teachers are or aren’t being effective in the classroom. It’s hard enough to report on these complicated issues; imagine being the district staff member working to weave these ideas into an award-winning application competitive amongst other states.
It’s also heartbreaking to watch what’s happening to Washoe schools, this microcosm of education within the nation, where there are outstanding, award-winning, dedicated teachers doing without, investing into their students out of their own pockets, while watching their salaries get put on a freeze. The district thus far has dealt wisely with the $33 million shortfall, which was revealed only recently that the deficit has jumped to $37 million, a $4 million increase that should not be taken lightly by any means. Teachers unions came to the table, ready and willing to make concessions and contingency funds have been drawn down, among other steps that have been taken.
Still, the district’s budget lies in the capable hands of a chief financial officer and board of trustees that are making frugal, prudent choices during these very difficult economic times that very nearly have started approaching the classrooms where the children are learning.
Nonetheless, teachers’ jobs surely will hang in the balance in the near future. It was surprising to read a tidbit of news from the National Education Association (NEA) this weekend that new data show most states would receive more education dollars under an education jobs bill being worked on in the U.S. Senate called the Keep Our Educators Working Act of 2010 than they would if they were to receive awards from round two of Race to the Top. This includes Nevada, which would receive $190 million from the act, whereas it could get anywhere from $60 to $175 million for Race to the Top.
Keep Our Educators Working would infuse $23 billion to fund local and state education jobs, and, according to the NEA, with about 150,000 teacher layoffs expected in the next three months nationally, that money would be sorely needed to keep educators in the classroom as districts already face increasing class sizes, doing away with programs and possibly even school closures.
It is with great hope the recession will come to an end and the education offered to this and the next generation of children won’t be so reliant on how much money a school district can secure but on the commitment of all district staff members to ensure every child has an equal opportunity to learn and to graduate.
Jessica Garcia is a reporter for the Sparks Tribune. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.