Today the Department of Education revealed the Race to the Top program winners to…modest fanfare.
Most of the reactions I’ve seen from free-market types focuses on the fact that Colorado and Louisiana — which had aggressive reform packages — got left out in the cold. But Frederick Hess’s post for the American provides a much broader skeptical take:
After all, the Department of Education’s unprecedented impact is only being made possible by an extraordinary bout of federal edu-spending-and the unprecedented borrowing that made it possible. While observers frequently note the big bang that Duncan has gotten from “just” $4.35 billion for RTT, it’s worth recalling that it cost more than $120 billion in federal edu-stimulus and the Edujobs bill to buy that handful of reform dollars.
Second, there’s a crucial opportunity cost to RTT that’s gone largely unnoted. In the midst of a fiscal crunch which calls for smart budget-cutting and careful rethinking, RTT has encouraged state leaders and reformers to focus on dreaming up new ways to spend. Chasing new dollars has allowed state chiefs and legislatures to ignore less pleasant questions and to plug in hoped-for federal funds when baking the state schools budget.
So here’s the package deal we got: superficial reforms for a $120 billion ransom to teachers and administrators, while postponing the inevitable state budget reductions.