Sat. Apr 20th, 2024

Education E-Alert from Assemblyman Jose Solorio
Striving for Excellence In Our Schools – Update on Race to the Top

Meeting the learning needs of our children is the public school system’s responsibility, but it is up to all of us to insist on excellence. Therefore, I will periodically report on current legislative efforts that aim to increase academic achievement and support our teachers by giving them the best tools to educate our children.

Currently, California is aggressively competing for President Obama’s federal Race to the Top (RTTT) and School Improvement Grant (SIG) funding opportunities with other states. Funding for RTTT is available in two phases, Phase 1 and Phase 2.

The Q&A below defines the Race to the Top challenge and California’s attempt to meet it.

Q. What is Race to the Top?
A. Last July, President Obama announced Race to the Top (RTTT), a competitive grant program designed to encourage and reward states that are creating the conditions for education innovation and improvement. The $4.35 billion RTTT is the single largest pool of funding for education reform in U.S. history. In an attempt to secure up to $700 million, California vied with other states and submitted an application last January.

“America will not succeed in the 21st century unless we do a far better job of educating our sons and daughters… And the race starts today…if you turn around failing schools – your state can win a Race to the Top grant that will not only help students outcompete workers around the world, but let them fulfill their God-given potential.”

President Barack Obama
July 24, 2009.

Q. What legislation has California enacted to be more competitive for RTTT funding?
A. Last August, the Governor called for and the Legislature convened the Fifth Extraordinary (5X) Session to to address the State’s eligibility to apply and be competitive for the federal RTTT funding. Three bills were ultimately passed and signed by the Governor on January 7, 2010, and became operative on April 12, 2010. These three bills have made statutory changes to education policy that will remain in effect regardless of the outcome of California’s RTTT application(s).

SBx5 1 (Steinberg) – Race to the Top
This measure addresses the bulk of the statutory areas needed to ensure the state’s eligibility for the federal RTTT grant. It addresses the four RTTT policy reform areas by:
• Adopting internationally-benchmarked standards and assessments that prepare students for success in college and the workplace.
• Recruiting, developing, retaining, and rewarding effective teachers and principals.
• Building data systems that measure student success and inform teachers and principals how they can improve their practices.
• Turning around California’s lowest-performing schools.

SBx5 2 (Simitian) – Pupil Data
This measure establishes an education data team within the California Department of Education (CDE) to act as an institutional board to review research requests and assure protection of privacy rights. This bill would also allow the CDE to assume the responsibilities of the local educational agencies (LEAs) with regard to the release of data on individual pupils.

SBx5 4 (Romero) – Parent Empowerment and Open Enrollment

This bill creates a parent empowerment tool which allows 50 percent of the parents and legal guardians of students at a school in its third year of program improvement to sign a petition to require the school board to implement one of four transition models for successful change. The bill also establishes an Open Enrollment Program, which authorizes a pupil enrolled in a low achieving school to attend any higher achieving school in the state.

Q. What states were awarded RTTT funding in Phase 1?
A. This past March, the U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced that out of the 41 states that applied and the 16 finalists selected, only Delaware and Tennessee were awarded grants in Phase 1 of the RTTT competition. Due to the high level of competitiveness with other states and not having enough school district participation, California did not make the final cut. However, the federal government has encouraged California to apply again in Phase 2, and has provided the state with strategic feedback to assist in the application process.

Currently, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell are working together with six school districts in California (Clovis, Fresno, Long Beach, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Sanger) to write the Phase 2 application. It is due June 1, 2010.

Other school districts can – and are encouraged to – add onto the RTTT Phase 2 application during the week of May 17, 2010. Visit for the specifics and encourage your school district superintendent and school board members to apply.

Q. Is there any other federal stimulus funding to help low-performing schools, and are any Orange County schools eligible?
A. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009 also funds School Improvement Grants (SIG), and $485.1 million is available for California schools. Eligible schools can apply and receive from $50,000 to $2 million per year for three years. SIG funding will be allocated to the bottom five percent of Title I schools, or “persistently lowest performing schools.” As a condition of receiving SIG funding, schools must implement one of four transition models that are also used to obtain RTTT funding. The application deadline is June 1, 2010. To learn more, visit

The California Department of Education compiled the list of the lowest five percent of Title I schools and determined that two middle schools and four high schools within the Santa Ana Unified School District (SAUSD) are eligible to receive SIG funding. They are:

• Sierra Intermediate School
• Willard Intermediate School
• Century High School
• Saddleback High School
• Santa Ana High School
• Valley High School

While the application and school transformation process is rigorous, SIG funding will help these schools reach the achievement levels we all hope for. If each school receives the maximum allotment, SAUSD could be eligible for up to $36 million over a three year period.

I hope this Education E-Alert has given you a good understanding of California’s commitment to fight for federal funding for education. I will keep you apprised of the outcome of our applications. If you would like information on other education policy issues in the future, please let us know by contacting Carol Chamberlain of my staff at


Jose Solorio
State Assemblyman

By Editor

The New Santa Ana blog has been covering news, events and politics in Santa Ana since 2009.

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