Gregoire asks districts to sign on to grant

Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire, second from left, speaks Wednesday, April 7, 2010, at Foster High School in Tukwila, Washington.
Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire, second from left, speaks Wednesday, April 7, 2010, at Foster High School in Tukwila, Washington. Associated Press

TUKWILA - Gov. Chris Gregoire believes Washington has a chance to win $250 million from the federal government for education reform, but only if everyone involved in education - including the state's 295 school districts - joins the campaign.

At a news conference Wednesday at Foster High School in Tukwila, the governor said she was sending a copy of the plan to every school district and asking them to send it back with the superintendent’s signature.

The plan calls for higher academic standards, more preschool education and an emphasis on science and math. The state has also committed to adopting the national academic standards now in development, and it will create financial incentives to get the best teachers and principals in rural, high-poverty and low-achieving schools.

At the same time, the president of the state’s largest teacher’s union said she would be making the rounds of local unions seeking their endorsement.

“Everybody has to be part of this game for us to qualify for Race to the Top,” the governor said. The states that brought teachers, parents and policymakers into the same room to plan their application were the ones that succeeded in the first round of the program, she said.

Washington did not enter the first round, in which 40 states and the District of Columbia competed but only two states were given grants.

“We had work to do; we knew it. We did the work. We are serious about reform in Washington state,” the governor said. “Whether or not we receive Race to the Top funding, the only way Washington could lose in this effort is if we refuse to compete. That’s not how we do things in Washington state.”

Gregoire said she has learned a lot from the process and from carefully listening to what Education Secretary Arne Duncan has said in interviews.

The governor said she is convinced Washington is on the right track – both with its ideas and its approach.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn agreed, despite his comments earlier in the process that the state wasn’t going far enough in its reform proposal. He said many of the ideas are already being tried in some districts, but the aim is to spread them throughout the state.

“Whether we get Race to the Top or not, we will move forward with our blueprint,” said Dorn, in his first public appearance since spending Monday night in jail as part of his sentence for one misdemeanor count of driving under the influence of alcohol.

When asked about Dorn’s arrest last month, the governor said that she was working with Dorn in his role as superintendent.

After the news conference, Dorn took a few minutes to visit with some students in the freshman biology classroom where the news conference was held, and he mentioned his night in jail.

Mary Lindquist, president of the Washington Education Association, said she likes the flexibility of the education plan – giving local school districts the power to decide which parts of education reform they want to emphasize – and the fact the Washington Education Association has been involved in the grant application process from the beginning.

She agreed with the governor that having all the players involved will make Washington’s application a winner.

“The strength is in the solidarity,” Lindquist said.

The governor has set a May 17 deadline for school districts and others to sign their partnership agreement, which will be sent to Washington, D.C., with the state’s application.

The governor recently signed into law an education reform plan designed to help the state compete for Race to the Top money.

Gregoire said the plan is a compromise between all the people involved in education — teachers, principals, district superintendents, lawmakers and other government officials.

Washington’s application for a grant in the highly competitive process is due in June.

The states that did not succeed in the first round are welcome to apply for the second round.

Duncan has made it clear that not every state will win a grant.

The second round winners are scheduled to be announced in September.