Strings attached to stimulus dollars for schools

AP News
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Posted: Nov 09, 2009 5:15 PM

The Obama administration is ready to hand out more stimulus dollars for schools, but this time, strings are attached.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan said another $11.5 billion is available to states, which have already received more than $67 billion.

Duncan said the administration wanted to distribute most of the money quickly to bolster state budgets that have been ravaged by the recession.

Now Duncan is making it tougher to get the rest of the dollars because the administration wants states to adopt President Barack Obama's vision of reform.

States will have to fill out a far more detailed application that demands information on Obama's broad goals _ tougher academic standards, better ways to recruit and keep effective teachers, a method of tracking student performance and a plan of action to turn around failing schools.

For example, states will be required to identify their lowest-achieving schools by name and tell the department how, or whether, officials have tried to turn the schools around.

States will also be pressed on how many core classes in poorer and wealthier schools are taught by "highly qualified" teachers. This is an effort to make states do a better job of educating poor and minority kids, who are far less likely to have effective teachers.

But a children's advocacy group, the Education Trust, said the administration fell short of its goal. Nearly every teacher in the U.S. is deemed "highly qualified," because while federal law says teachers in core subjects must be "highly qualified," states were allowed to come up with their own definitions.

"Poor kids and kids of color always get the short end of the stick," said Amy Wilkins, lobbyist for the group, said. "The department managed to use the one metric that obscures the difference."

A spokeswoman for the department, Sandra Abrevaya, said states are also being pressed on the steps they are taking to make sure disadvantaged kids get effective teachers.

Similar strings are attached to a separate $5 million competitive grant program in the stimulus, nicknamed the "Race to the Top" fund, that Obama was promoting in Wisconsin last week.

Obama has already coaxed several states to rewrite education laws and cut deals with unions as they compete for the grants. And states can't even apply for them yet; those applications are expected later this week.