Senator Jon Tester today told U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan that "Race to the Top' - the department's highly publicized education initiative - is doing a better job creating grant writers than helping students in rural America.
Tester, a former teacher and school board member, said small school districts - like those in Montana - do not have the resources available to write grant proposals, leaving them at a disadvantage when competing for funding against larger districts.
Established in 2009, Race to the Top offers grants to schools that propose new ways to educate students and raise education levels.
"Race to the Top doesn't work real well for small school districts," Tester told Duncan. "We only have small school districts in Montana. What can be done so that we're not creating grant writers, but we are getting money to the ground to help kids move forward in these rural school districts?"
Duncan told Tester more needs to be done to reach rural communities and that he would look at the types of investments being made in smaller school districts. Tester brought Duncan to Lame Deer, Montana, in 2009 to see firsthand the challenges facing rural schools.
Tester, who called investments in education "dollars well-spent," also questioned Duncan about his department's efforts to make college more affordable, recent cuts to initiatives that help low-income students, and the Administration's overall education budget priorities.
"I became a teacher, my daughter is a teacher, and I served some of my toughest political years on the local school board," Tester said. "That's because education is so very important. We have our challenges in this economy and if we're going to maintain our democracy, public education is a foundation of that."
Tester questioned Duncan as a new member of the Appropriations subcommittee that oversees the Education Department.