If the brinksmanship over a federal government shutdown demonstrates anything, it's that the White House doesn't always call the shots. The Education Department's plan to award $900 million to individual school districts in a Race to the Top grant competition next year is no exception. Thus far, the Obama administration has managed to retain funding for current Race to the Top programs in its contentious back-and-forth with congressional Republicans over the budget, but it has done so by conceding to cuts in other areas.
Still, Republicans are running roughshod over the whole of the Obama budget plan. On education, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., has shown little sympathy for the White House's insistence on maintaining Pell Grant levels, but the White House held firm in retaining them in Friday's last-minute budget deal. The requested $900 million for regional Race to the Top awards is a drop in the bucket compared to the multi-trillion federal budget plan, but the administration will need to exercise vigilance to make sure the item is retained.
The Education Department is hoping to that by directing Race to the Top money to districts of varying sizes and strengths, it can help individual districts solve their own unique problems--ones that might not rise to the level of a state education administrator. The department is going forward with its plans for a third funding round at the regional level, but it is possible the program could be cut off as appropriators ready next year's budget.
What would be lost if the regional Race to the Top grants were to die in a budget-trimming deal with Republicans? Does it make sense to start another Race to the Top round at a district level when the kinks are still being worked out on the two previous state-level competitions? What should school districts who are interested in Race to the Top grants be doing to prepare for the competition? How important is it for districts to know for sure whether the funds will actually be there if they want to be serious contenders for the grants?