California could be eligible for up to $700 million in federal education stimulus funds under guidelines scheduled to be released today by the U.S. Department of Education.
Earlier this year, the Obama administration proposed a series of reforms, including abolishing charter school caps and using student test score data to evaluate educators, as part of a $4.35-billion competitive grant known as Race to the Top. The administration accepted public comment for several months before finalizing the regulations.
More than 1,100 groups and individuals submitted comments online. Federal officials today gave The Times a summary of the final guidelines, which are similar to the original proposals.
States will be judged on a 500-point scale that will measure their plans to enact a variety of reforms, including implementing data systems, turning around low-performing schools and paying effective teachers and administrators more.
States now have 60 days to apply for federal funding, which puts more pressure on California Assembly members, who are currently in a special legislative session focused on education. The deadline to apply for the first round of federal dollars is in mid-January.
States can apply for a second phase of funding later, but federal officials have warned that only a few will be chosen.
Education Department officials also issued an estimate, based on school-age population, of how much each state would receive if it were awarded a grant. Four large states, including California, could get $350 million to $700 million.
State officials had hoped California would be eligible for up to $1 billion.
The California Senate passed a comprehensive education bill earlier this month that embraced many of the Obama administration's proposals, including lifting the cap on the number of charter schools allowed and using test scores as an evaluative tool. The state's powerful teachers unions oppose the bill, and state Sen. Gloria Romero (D-Los Angeles), who chairs the Senate education committee, said that resistance may make a difference when the Assembly takes up the measure.
The Assembly has held several hearings on Race to the Top and has another scheduled in mid-December. Even if lawmakers approved the education bill shortly after the final hearing, state officials would have little time to prepare a Race to the Top application.
Assembly members may decide to speed up their process.
"We will take a look at the new guidelines and determine whether or not we need to make any changes to the timeline," Shannon Murphy, deputy chief of staff to Assembly Speaker Karen Bass (D-Los Angeles), wrote in an e-mail.
Earlier this year, legislators struck down a law that had been criticized by federal officials, including Obama; the law prohibited the state from using student test scores to evaluate teachers. Obama singled out California and Indiana last week for taking that step.
But that move may not be enough to guarantee California funding, especially since other budget-strapped states have been aggressively pursuing Race to the Top dollars.
"There's a difference between getting on an Olympic team and getting a gold medal," said Justin Hamilton, a Department of Education spokesman. "We're talking about getting gold medals."
Teachers unions have opposed the changes and say lawmakers are moving too quickly, particularly because the unions believe the federal funding is inadequate.
"Seven hundred million is better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick, but it's not going to come close to filling the hole" of previous budget cuts, said Fred Glass, communications director for the California Federation of Teachers.
Glass also said that linking student test scores to teachers, especially for the purpose of pay, is an unproven theory. "We want to have education reform based on research," he said.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has not seen the final federal guidelines but urged the Assembly to work quickly.
"Truly bipartisan reforms and hundreds of millions of dollars for California's schools now lie in the hands of the state Assembly," Camille Anderson, a spokeswoman for the governor, wrote in an e-mail.