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Michigan Goes Big in Race to the Top

Since President Obama introduced his Race to the Top education initiative, states have been scrambling to rewrite their laws to qualify for a...

Since President Obama introduced his Race to the Top education initiative, states have been scrambling to rewrite their laws to qualify for a share of more than $4 billion in federal grant money. According to the results of a survey released on Tuesday by the Center on Education Policy, 41 of the 50 states plan to apply for funds.Foremost among those jockeying for a large cut of the payout is Michigan-a state that's come to be synonymous with economic ruin. Earlier this year, Governor Jennifer Granholm announced that the state's schools budget would be slashed by more than $200 million. According to the Chicago Tribune, when enacted this winter the shortfall will likely result in a number of cuts, including layoffs, which will add to the state's nation-leading unemployment rate of more than 15 percent.Michigan is hoping a check from Race to the Top of up to $400 million can help fill its funding gap as early as April. The AP reports that the state senate has been busy this week working to green-light various changes to Michigan's education system: among them, creating more charter schools, designing a methodology to address failing schools, instituting a merit-based assessments for teachers, and adding alternate paths to its teacher certification process. Bills addressing all four areas will soon be in front of its house of representatives.Among the many alterations Michigan is considering, one of the stickiest involves rolling back a law that forbids public schools from beginning their school years before Labor Day, a provision passed in 2005 to benefit the state's tourism and agriculture industries. The issue pits Democrats looking to make the Michigan school system appear more dedicated to time spent on instruction (and thus more attractive to the Obama administration) against Republicans protecting the state's business interests. Race to the Top's rules do not mandate changing a school system's start date, so many in the state see it as a superfluous gesture of ingratiation.Granholm, who, according to the Detroit Free Press, has used uncommon force in calling for these changes to be made in time for the Race to the Top deadline in mid-January, says the next three weeks will be critical to determining if the state will qualify for the funds.It would be plain mean to root against the ball bouncing Michigan's way for a change. But with such sweeping changes being made in such a short period of time, is anyone concerned about how well the Michigan school system will operate in the short-term, even if they hit pay dirt in the Race to the Top?

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