Winners, Losers and Competitive Grants
For a country that prides itself on supposed equal opportunity for all, you would think our policymakers would shy away from education policies that blatantly favor already well-off schools over struggling schools in need of support. Not so when it comes to education funding and competitive grantmaking. A report from one of our New York allies, Alliance for Quality Education, charges that NY's competitive grants, which force schools to compete for funding rather than allocating that money to the schools that need it most, is creating a "system of education winners and losers" that denies struggling schools and their students a fair and substantive opportunity to learn.
As the report explains, following the 2007 Campaign for Fiscal Equity court case, the state of New York committed itself to fair funding and support for high-needs schools. But when the economic recession hit, the state began slashing its education budget. School districts had to cut pre-k programs and quality teaching initiatives, increase class sizes, etc. "Now, through the competitive grants programs students compete with each other for test scores to let a few of them win back some of the same programs that were cut. The rest lose out."
Which schools get grant money now depends primarily on student test scores and administrators' grant writing skills rather than the needs of the students:
"The 'School District Performance Improvement Competitive Grant Program' will award $25 million to a limited number of school districts to receive three-year grants to develop or expand programs for middle and high school students. All school districts would have had access to funding had it been distributed through the foundation aid formula. Of the 677 school districts in the state, only 73, or 10% competed for this funding. The remaining 90% determined they were either ineligible to secure funding or that they did not have the necessary grant writing capacity to respond to the competition."
The bottom line is that competitive grants are inequitable, and they only increase existing inequalities. Whoever thinks a "fair" race is letting certain competitors get a head start and awarding them the prize money when they finish first needs to take their fondness for market-inspired competition home and try again. Our students deserve a fair chance and an equitable opportunity to learn. Rigged competitions, rather than policies that give everyone a fair shot at succeeding, aren't the solution.
Download the report here!