Race to the Top debate: opening statement

Senator Becky SchmitzOpening Statement on SF 2033: Race to the Top

 By Senator Becky Schmitz, chair of the Iowa Senate Education Committee

The Race to the Top competitive grant is an education grant that is a piece of President Obama’s $4 billion grant program for schools.  SF 2033 supports our application for up to $175 million in Race to the Top funding. 

The Race to the Top grant will help Iowa schools – as well as other state and local education entities — further implement the Iowa Core Curriculum. As you recall, the central goal of the Iowa Core Curriculum is to ensure that Iowa’s students are prepared to be “learners, earners and citizens” in the 21st Century. 

We need new learning environments, tools and materials, organizational structures, and resources to achieve our goals for all our students. 

While Iowa has many strong points, this legislation will support Iowa’s application and give school districts the option to apply for additional federal funds for persistently lower achieving schools.  

Specifically, the legislation before you today will:

  • Remove the cap and repeal date for charter schools in Iowa.  Currently, Iowa Code has a 20 charter school cap and a repeal date for all charter schools on July 1, 2011.  The Legislation removes those restrictions. 
  • Allow schools to develop Innovation Zone Schools and Consortiums –This legislation adds innovation zone schools and consortiums to the ways that schools districts can foster innovation in more schools. 

Turning around Iowa’s lowest performing schools. 

Included in the legislation, but an issue outside of the Race to the Top application, is the subject of persistently lowest achieving schools, also known as PLAS. 

The Federal Government requires states to identify 5 percent of its school buildings as PLAs.  For these 35 identified schools in 18 schools districts across Iowa, the Federal Government will provide up to $18 million in additional funding to increase student achievement.  To receive the additional school improvement funding, the Federal Government will require that schools must adopt one of four models of intervention. 

Legislation provides local school districts with the ability to decide locally which, if any, of the four models they will utilize to turn around their schools and draw down additional federal money.  Local school administration and teachers will mutually agree on which of the four intervention models they will use to access the federal money available to them. 

This approach is supported by federal guidelines.  U.S. Department of Education materials regarding this initiative state that “drawing upon pockets of success in cities and State across the country, the Secretary believes LEAs (local school districts) and unions can work together to bring about dramatic, positive changes in our persistently lowest-achieving schools. 

Accordingly, the Department encourages collaborations and partnerships between LEAs (local school districts) and teacher unions and teacher membership associations to resolve issues created by school intervention models in the context of existing collective bargaining agreements.” 

On this note, I would say that because teachers and administrators and school boards have a mutual interest in improving student achievement and success, they also have a shared interest in working together to develop consensus – but if they don’t reach agreement on a model, they  will not  receive additional funding.


Posted Jan. 13th, 2010 at 5:55 pm by
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