Should California alter its laws to get a second dose of school stimulus dollars? Or would that be chasing chump change for unproven reforms? Schooled is bringing you two views on this debate.

Donna Cleary, a parent and public affairs consultant, argues that California should go for it, adopting the proposed reforms to improve its chances in Race to the Top, a competition for more federal stimulus dollars for schools. Her view counters that of our previous blogger, Jim Miller, a parent and community college professor who opposes the bill and the chosen reforms.

These are her views, not mine, so if you have comments, questions or counterarguments, please post them directly to the blog or e-mail Donna directly at — EMILY ALPERT

As a parent with three children in San Diego Unified School District, I’m not going to sit back and watch special interests in this state do even more damage. I refuse to accept this is the best we can offer California’s students. I can’t stand it anymore. Without reform, we create an insane situation, or to quote Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity: “Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Wake up parents, let’s force this bipartisan reform!

President Obama along with his education secretary has created a program that helps address some of the archaic public education policy in California. The Race to the Top (RTT) program is a race to reform. Once the reforms are made, a state can apply for federal monies that can help rejuvenate participating school districts. A reform bill (SBX5 1) has already passed the State Senate with bi-partisan support and is currently in the Assembly.

Instead of complaining about how little funds there are available to local districts, we ought to be doing everything we can to eliminate bad public policy and get our fair share. If you think everything is great with the California education system — then do NOTHING! If you think the system is broken, then you need to act!

Some opponents of the legislation claim that reforming for $500 million just isn’t worth it. If you agree, you are totally missing the boat. This just isn’t about these one-time funds; it’s about a potential legacy of funds. If those dealing out the dough in Washington D.C. say try something new to fix it, we ought to move forward.

California’s problems with education funding are numerous, but, as a parent, I will stand strong in my beliefs that special interests must get out of the way. Gone are the days when districts sequester pockets of monies for rainy days or pet projects. School districts are lean.

Race to the Top will:

  • Establish a plan to turn around the bottom 5 percent of the lowest performing schools.
  • Remove the cap on the number of charter schools authorized to operate in California and ensure that these schools are of the highest quality.
  • Allow for open enrollment options for students stuck in low-performing schools.
  • Make California more competitive to maximize its chances of receiving additional grants.
  • Authorize greater use of data to improve instruction. This is just one measurement used to base teacher and administrator performance. This is subject to collective bargaining on the local level.

The reform bill’s new amended version addresses some of the concerns that school districts have voiced. The legislation will allow participating districts greater flexibility and allow them to operate like a charter school.

Some say the timeline to apply for the federal funds is tight. I agree. It is a tight timeline, but it’s a race, so let’s start moving. If you walk through the motions, my kids lose, your kids lose and California once again becomes its own worst enemy. The first phase of the application is due on January 19, 2010, which is five weeks away.

The process isn’t perfect, but the opportunity to have bi-partisan reform with a reward of potential funding doesn’t happen often. Other states like Arizona are bragging about how they are on track to receive these extra funds. California is no longer at the top of national education rankings. It is my belief that if California makes the effort we will be funded. In fact, I think the Obama Administration created the Race to the Top program just for California.

Anything important is certainly worth putting in extra hours to accomplish!

As the reform bill changes to accommodate the needs of the stakeholders, we can’t lose sight of the real purpose — REFORM! On another note, if we were already on track to providing a better education for California’s school aged children, we wouldn’t have to do so much work in such a short period of time to reform.

Take a stand and contact the Assembly Committee on Education to voice your support at 916.319.2087.


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