Missouri has kicked off the state’s participation in the Race to the Top grant program. As part of the stimulus package passed by the federal government, Race to the Top is an almost $4.5 billion program that will be awarded to states leading in innovation in education. Originally, Missouri Education Commissioner, Dr. Chris Nicastro stated that Missouri would not apply for the first round of the program. Now after receiving pressure from advocacy organizations and the legislature, and the application deadline being moved back, Missouri will apply for the first round of Race to the Top grants.
Last week, the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education held a work session for stakeholders to discuss ideas in the applications for the Race to the Top grants. Dr. Nicastro stated in her opening remarks that the application process “must be about developing and implementing an innovative and bold plan for systemic educational reform in Missouri over the next decade.” Governor Jay Nixon also added that the status quo was not acceptable in applying for this program. “Don’t let the urge to protect the status quo, or the fear of change, prevent you from imagining a brilliant future.”
Now that the stage is set for reform, Missourians must make sure that these words translate into action. Our state’s application can be boosted by expanding charter schools to all areas of the state, developing data systems that link student performance with their teachers, and implementing systems, like merit pay, that are able to recruit and retain good teachers and administrators.
Even if Missouri does not win a grant in round one, we will learn valuable information for a round two application from the process. We can learn what reforms were made by grant winners and implement similar reforms prior to a round two application.
With cuts to the state’s budget, including education, likely to come in the near future, it is good to see Missouri taking this step to attempt to deliver as much education money to the children of the state as possible. Now we will see if the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education back up their application for Race to the Top with real reforms.