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Can States With Such Big Budget Woes Really Race to the Top?

With the Race to the Top winners expected to be announced "very soon," it seems particularly urgent to start thinking about what the winning states will actually do with all of their money. And whether it will do any good...

As I've blogged before, all of the states--except Pennsylvania--asked for more money in their RTT applications than what the Education Department had estimated as a top-of-the-line grant. Which brings up important questions about a state's capacity to deliver on its grand promises, with less money.

This question become even more critical when you look at the potential winners, and just how bad off their overall K-12 budgets are.

In researching an upcoming story about states having trouble meeting basic funding requirements to get their State Fiscal Stabilization Fund dollars, an eagle-eye education policy analyst pointed out something very interesting: the list of states that have applied for a SFSF waiver from maintenance-of-effort requirements looks a lot like the list of RTT finalists.

Seven of the 14 states that have applied for at least one waiver are RTT finalists. This means that as they are racing to the top, they cannot muster up enough cash to maintain K-12 or higher education funding levels from 2006 (that's four years ago!).

These RTT finalist states, which have applied for at least one waiver in either fiscal years 2009, 2010, or 2011, are: Colorado, Florida, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and South Carolina.

Can a state lead the nation in this education reform march if its budget situation is so dire it cannot match 2006 levels? Some would argue the greatest change, and the greatest efficiencies, can come out of a budget crisis. So maybe it's possible. What do you think?

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