Left out of the race

Colorado has twice now been rejected in its bid for millions of dollars from the Obama administration’s “Race to the Top” competition for education funding.

It’s a development that seems to have come as a shock to some observers given President Obama’s apparent fondness for the Centennial State, the kind of affinity that had to have Gov. Bill Ritter thinking he had a place at the top locked up.

Politics, however, now appears to have played a role in Colorado’s disappointment.

We know, that’s shocking, given the arm’s length relationship we’ve come to expect when billions of dollars, thousands of jobs, the vast reach of national policy and struggles for power are involved.

Lt. Gov. Barbara O’Brien suggested that something might be afoot when she said the administration had a “tin ear” when it came to understanding the relationship between states in the West and the schools in them.

In that, she was referring to the independence of schools in the West from other civil authorities. The mayor of New York City, in a notable example, appoints the chancellor of the city’s schools. Interestingly, New York was a big Race to the Top winner.

Ritter studied the votes of judges and noted that two gave Colorado an average of 350 points from a possible 500 while the others awarded an average of 450 points.

“That leads me to believe there were some flaws in how objective the process really was,” Ritter said.

No word on whether either of the low-balling judges were French and had previous experience in figure-skating competitions.

Others who have studied the results have added up the number of electoral votes represented by the states that were awarded money in the Race to the Top and concluded something other than educational achievement was in play.

There is also a geographical explanation, or at least observation. The winners included the Eastern Seaboard states of Florida, Georgia, Massachusetts, Maryland, North Carolina, New York and Rhode Island. Only Ohio and Hawaii broke the mold.

Still other critics have pointed to the interplay of legislation and teachers unions and concluded that was the important relationship.

The Legislature this year made changes that were grudgingly accepted by the Colorado Education Association and aimed at winning money from the Race to the Top.

The winning states might have had legislatures that were more amenable to union concerns, rather than the other way around, as was apparently the case in Colorado.

There might also have been concerns that Amendment 60, aimed at reducing property taxes, a major source of money to schools, as well as Amendment 61 and Proposition 101, all on the November ballot, would hamstring any effort by the state government to meet the goals set in a successful Race to the Top application.

Much as it might be instructive to seek out explanations, the state now has to look ahead.

“Just the fact that Colorado has been mentioned so frequently illustrates that we’ve been doing a pretty good job,” said Marcia Neal of Grand Junction, who represents the 3rd Congressional District on the state Board of Education. “Are we going to sit back and wait for Washington to tell us what to do?”

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