“Race to the Top” v. Jobs Money: Which Offers More?

With at least 130,000 teachers receiving pink slips in the next three months, and school budgets already cut to the bone, states are turning to the federal government for aid. Under the Obama administration’s “Race to the Top” competitive grant program, that aid is only available to districts as long as they make radical changes such as converting to a charter school or firing all of the teachers.

However, grants available through Race to the Top are only a fraction of the money that would be available to cash-strapped schools in another proposal pending in Congress, which would extend the successful state aid program of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), chair of the Senate Education Committee, introduced S. 3206 last week. The bill will provide $23 billion to extend the program.

A side-by-side comparison of potential grant awards versus jobs legislation funding shows stark differences for cash-strapped schools.

For example, California is eligible for a maximum of $700 million under Race to the Top, but would receive nearly $3 billion through the jobs package. That difference, of more than four times the funding, is critical in a state facing a facing a possible 26,000 educator layoffs.

Illinois — where thousands of public education supporters rallied at the capital today — would receive a maximum of $400 million under Race to the Top, but $978 million through the jobs package. [See this chart for a side-by-side comparison of what every state would receive under each proposal.]

“Our members and all educators are struggling to keep their heads above water,” said NEA President Dennis Van Roekel.

“They’re doing everything they can to keep their jobs, and keeping those jobs is coming down to how much Federal funding their states will receive,” he said. “We need to get our states and schools as much money as we can right now to stop the loss of our educators, who may leave the profession altogether after being forced out.”