Three days after California voters rejected ballot measures to restore state funding for public schools, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan visited the state today and told more than 500 business, education, political, philanthropic, and community leaders not to retreat from their responsibilities to prepare all children to graduate high school college- and career-ready.
Even as California's 2008 Academic Performance Index data was released showing some improvement, Secretary Duncan challenged the audience at the San Francisco School Alliance luncheon to rebuild its public school system and again be the envy of the world.
"Your state once had the best education system in the country. From cradle to career, you took care of your children," Secretary Duncan said. "You made sure they were ready to enter your universities or be productive participants in the workforce. I ask you, is California going to lead the race to the top or are you going to lead the retreat?"
Through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), $4 billion was released to stabilize California's state finances and another $1.3 billion to supplement federal programs for children challenged by poverty and special needs. This fall, $2 billion in state stabilization funds will be sent to California. However, the stimulus is about recovery and driving innovative school reforms. In fact, $5 billion in ARRA's State Fiscal Stabilization Fund is reserved for the secretary of education to make competitive grants. The Department of Education will conduct a national competition among states for a $4.35 billion state incentive "Race to the Top" fund to improve education quality and results statewide.
President Obama is deeply committed to this program because it will enable the department to spur reform on a national scale - driving school systems to adopt college- and career-ready, internationally benchmarked standards. It will provide incentives to create state-of-the-art data collection systems, assessments and curricula to meet higher standards. It will encourage states to recruit, train, mentor and support a great, new generation of teachers to better prepare our students for college and careers.
Before visiting the pre-kindergarten through Grade 8 Paul Revere School and the University of California-San Francisco, Secretary Duncan told the Alliance audience that California needs to end its budget stalemate and provide state dollars for public schools.
"That will free up stimulus dollars you can use for reform - internationally competitive standards, good data, good teachers, and turning around the worst of your schools," Secretary Duncan said. "If you succeed in that, I'll reward you for your efforts."