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Thursday, July 08, 2010
N.M. Reps. Back Race to Top, but Votes Cut Funds
By Michael Coleman
Journal Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON — New Mexico's three U.S. House members said this week that they support a White House initiative to reward high-performing schools called "Race to the Top," but each voted for a bill that stripped money for the program.
The House last week approved a supplemental war-spending bill that contained an amendment to remove $500 million from the $4.35 billion Race to the Top program.
The competition urges states to adopt changes championed by President Barack Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan, including support for charter schools and tying student achievement to teacher evaluations.
Thirty-five states and the District of Columbia applied for a share of $4.3 billion that will be awarded to states with ambitious plans for education reform. Only Tennessee and Delaware were awarded money in the first round, although 14 other states — New Mexico not among them — were finalists. Critics of the House decision to strip the money from Race to the Top contend it will result in fewer qualifying states.
New Mexico's first-round application was criticized for a number of factors, including a letter from Albuquerque Teachers Federation President Ellen Bernstein expressing reservations. Bernstein said the application didn't represent the ideas of the team that worked on it. But the state's second application to win federal Race to the Top money includes more details about evaluating teachers and has more union support than it did in the first round.
Members of New Mexico's U.S. House delegation said they voted for the $10 billion Education Jobs Fund amendment that stripped money from Race to the Top because it otherwise included money to help beleaguered state and local governments keep teachers on the payroll.
"I supported this legislation because it will help protect teachers' jobs," said Rep. Ben Ray Luján, D-N.M. "While I am supportive of Race to the Top's long term goal of improving elementary and secondary education, it is critical that our students do not suffer in the next few years because of large class sizes and a loss of good teachers."
"Restoring fiscal responsibility means making tough choices, and the bill passed by the House last week includes essential funding for New Mexico's schools, veterans, and border security efforts, all without adding to our country's deficit," said Rep. Harry Teague, D-N.M. "Race to the Top is an innovative program whose mission I support, but keeping teachers in New Mexico classrooms has to be a top priority."
Rep. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., said the bill contained money for many programs important to New Mexico.
"I continue to support the Race to the Top program to strengthen our nation's education system," Heinrich said. "I voted for the Education Jobs Fund amendment because it will keep teacher jobs intact and it provides an additional $701 million to secure our border."