California Didn't Deserve a Race To The Top Grant

California public school officials got the bad news this week that the state has been passed over by the Obama administration for federal Race To The Top funds. That means that the nation’s second-largest school system won’t be receiving the up to $700 million for which it was eligible.

The Golden State was one of 38 states and the Distrcit of Columbia that entered the second round of competition for Race To The Top grants, which are meant to encourage states to implement school reforms that yield measurable improvements in student performance. Ten grants were awarded yesterday, to nine states and the District. California finished out of the money in 16th place.

Jack O’Connell, the state’s Superintendent of Schools, said yesterday he was “deeply disappointed” that California’s bid for Race To The Top funds was rejected. And he thanked the local school districts that participated in the bid.

But one of those school districts – Los Angeles Unified – deserved no thanks. That’s because it exemplifies much of what is wrong with the public school system here in California.

Indeed, the Los Angeles Times recently published a series, based on data collected by the school district itself, which found a wide disparity among L.A.teachers in their effectiveness in raising the test scores of their students.

The disparity goes a long way to explaining why more than a third of students in the L.A. public school system drop out before receiving their high school diploma, why fewer than half rate as proficient or better on standardized tests for English-Language Arts and Mathematics and why roughly a quarter of L.A. public school teachers send their own children to private schools.

L.A. Unified complains of being under-funded, suggesting that more money will result in better teacher performance and improved student test results. But the tax dollars it already receives are going to dubious purposes.

Like the staggering $578 million the school district spent to build its new Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools complex, the most expensive public school in U.S. history. The Associated Press describes it as “the crème de la crème of ‘Taj Majal’ schools.”

And that’s just the latest monument to excess L.A. Unified has built at taxpayer expense. In 2008, it built a $377 million school. And, last year it opened a $232 million school.

It is hard for California to make the case for $700 million from Washington when federal officials see so much money being spent here by schools districts like LA Unified with so little to show for it in the way of student performance.

California didn’t deserve a Race To The Top grant.

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