Mar 092010
 
Authors: Sara Michael

A government check for $377 million is one piece of mail Daniel Lere really doesn’t want.

Last week, Gov. Bill Ritter, a Democrat, announced that Colorado was a finalist among the top 16 in the federal Race to the Top, an education reformation program that will give the winning state $377 million dollars to help elementary and secondary schools better prepare students for college –– money that Lere, superintendent of Pueblo School District 70, fears will lock his underfunded schools into yet another government project.

District 70, one of the two lowest-funded districts in the state, announced on Sunday its intent to shorten the school week to only four days for the 2010-2011 school year in an attempt to shave $6 million off their budget. Lere is concerned that, if Colorado wins the money, funding will cease once the program is settled in and schools will be left to finance programs they can’t afford on their own.

“This is one race we don’t want to win,” he said.

Assistant Superintendent of Poudre School District Kevin Hahn says that the Race to the Top funding would assist with the implementation of the new state content standards. The funds would also allow the state to create a data system for monitoring student progress from a pre-kindergarten through post-secondary perspective, a program he thinks will be beneficial.

The parameters for receiving the grant funding are graded on four aspects:

  • Adopting internationally benchmarked standards and assessments that prepare students for success in college and the workplace,
  • Recruiting, developing, rewarding and retaining effective teachers and principals,
  • Building data systems that measure student success and inform teachers and principals how they can improve their practices, and
  • Turning around lowest-performing schools.

Colorado’s teacher tenure law is one of the weak links in the state’s proposal, says Senate Minority Leader Josh Penry, R-Grand Junction.

Currently, teachers have a probationary period of three years before tenure is considered, but once tenure is granted, the process to remove a poorly performing teacher is long and costly.

Matt Worthington, director of Associated Students of CSU’s Legislative Affairs, said that, because none of this money would be spent on higher education, CSU and the other public universities of Colorado would be just as much in the red as they are currently.

Whatever the outcome, Ritter said in a press release that Colorado now has “a roadmap that leads directly to stronger and more effective student-centered education reforms.”

The entire delegation remains very much aware that Colorado has only passed the first hoop, Colorado Education Commissioner Dwight D. Jones said, but, “We are confident that Colorado will continue to move forward in this process.”

On Monday, Colorado will join the other fifteen finalists in Washington D.C. to present their proposals to a panel of reviewers for the final round.

Staff writer Sara Michael can be reached at news@collegian.com.

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