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Race to the Top Debate

Statement by John D. Podesta

SOURCE: AP/Charles Dharapak

President Barack Obama delivers the commencement address for Kalamazoo Central High School, the winner of the 2010 Race to the Top High School Commencement Challenge.

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A recent column by CAP Senior Fellow Scott Lilly seems to have caused quite a stir in the education reform community. The column defends a decision by House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey (D-WI) to fund $10 billion to prevent teacher layoffs, in part by cutting funds for critical education reform programs. Those cuts were significant—$500 million from the Race to the Top program, $200 million from Teacher Incentive Fund, and $100 million from the Charter Schools Program.

Since CAP has been a strong supporter of Race to the Top, the Teacher Incentive Fund, and the Charter Schools Program, education reformers are asking: “What’s up with that?”

Well, the answer to that question is that the Center for American Progress is dedicated to fostering thoughtful debate on important policy issues.

Indeed, we believe that discourse is central to the development of new ideas, and the Center supports respectful dialogue both in and outside of our organization. CAP does not apply the American Enterprise Institute/David Frum rule that if you stray from official orthodoxy you get the boot—even when you disagree with the boss. I found Scott’s column smart and well reasoned and his defense of Rep. Obey’s integrity, which had been questioned, compelling.

Nevertheless, I and the education team at CAP strongly disagree with Scott’s conclusion that the tradeoff between cutting critical education reform dollars to fund equally critical dollars to avoid teacher layoffs is a worthy one. Progressives would be wise to avoid the circular firing squad and find ways to fund these high-priority programs. For the reasons explained in a new column by Cindy Brown and Robin Chait, CAP will be urging senators to reject the cuts in Race to the Top, the Teacher Incentive Fund, and the Charter Schools Program and find other lower priority offsets.

John D. Podesta is President and CEO of the Center for American Progress.

See also:

Education Reforms Will Miss the ‘Top’ Without Broader Consensus, by Scott Lilly

Don’t Put Education Reform at Risk, by Robin Chait and Cindy Brown

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