United States Senator Mary L. Landrieu, D-La., today, during a hearing on Capitol Hill, defended Louisiana's Race to the Top application to U. S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan. Sen. Landrieu's comments came at a Senate Appropriations Committee Subcommittee hearing on the FY 2011 Department of Education budget. Louisiana was one of 16 states to advance to the final round in the first round of the competition for education funding through the Race to the Top program, but was not selected as a winner.
Sen. Landrieu was mostly concerned about the Department of Education's decision to give greater weight to applications that had the support of all school districts and statewide stakeholders, even if their reform efforts were not as strong as other states.
"In an ideal world, we would hope that everyone would be supportive, but, as you know, it is very difficult to get all those groups on board," Sen. Landrieu said. "Nothing in our application was watered down. If you push to get everyone there, you leave us no choice but to water down our reform efforts. Half of something strong is better than 100 percent of something weak and watered down, and that is what I am concerned about. This is a battle, not a waltz, and what you are saying is if you cannot get everyone in your state to step up, then we cannot help you start. That is counter to the way that I have been leading the reform effort in Louisiana. We should not be watering down reform efforts. We should be strengthening them and rewarding those who are willing to take the risk of reform, whether everyone is on board or not."
The Department of Education will make nearly $3.5 billion available in the second round of the Race to the Top competition. Senator Landrieu has been a long-time advocate of education reform and has been a champion of the Race to the Top program since its inception. The program is funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, for which Sen. Landrieu voted last year.
If Louisiana emerges as a winner, the state could receive up to $314 million over the next four years, the amount state leaders requested in their application to the Department of Education. Race to the Top awards could help the 325,000 public school students in participating Louisiana schools.
Louisiana's application, "Our Children Can't Wait: Louisiana's Blueprint for Education Reform," is centered on ensuring that across the state, every student is taught by an effective teacher, and every teacher is supported by an effective leader. The strong application highlights Louisiana's capacity and demonstrated success in achieving meaningful reform and puts the state in position to win a grant in the second round of this competition.
Sen. Landrieu also used her time during the hearing to speak out in support of the Teach for America program. South Louisiana is one of the nearly 20-year old program's original sites. In South Louisiana, there are 608 corps members in 148 schools, reaching 38,500 low-income students.
"It is harder to get into the Teach for America program than it is to get into Harvard Law School," Sen. Landrieu said. "What a phenomenal success this program has been. It is not a government-run or even a government-started program. It is a non-profit, entrepreneurial, innovative program that has accomplished more than any of us have in getting more quality teachers into our schools. And, yet, we have not adequately funded this program. I am committed to making sure this program is fully-funded, and when a government program can say it has put more qualified teachers in the classroom than are going to Harvard Law School, then we can shift the funding over there."