Oklahoma’s second-round Race to the Top application deadline is June 1, with the state seeking to win $175 million in federal grants to fund education reform.
Before the deadline, companion legislation — including the divisive issue of tying teacher evaluations to student performance — must be approved by the Legislature, which adjourns May 28. On Friday, the legislation was still being drafted. And the governor’s office must garner union support for the sweeping changes in state law. "We’ve had more time to draft the application ... work with the leadership at the state Department of Education, and ... ensure we’ve got support,” said former Tulsa Mayor Kathy Taylor, who heads the application process for Gov. Brad Henry. In the first round, Race to the Top judges said Oklahoma’s plans lacked proof reforms could be implemented. The state scored 295 of a possible 500 points finishing in the bottom 10 of the 40 states and District of Columbia that applied. But, only two states won funding: $100 million to Delaware and $500 million to Tennessee. That left $3.4 billion for the second round. "We have a good plan, and I think we’re going to be able to demonstrate that Oklahoma has achieved successful reform before,” Taylor said. Getting approval of companion legislation would go a long way in proving the state’s dedication to implementation, she said. Lela Odom, executive director of the Oklahoma Education Association, said some proposed reforms excite her, but she is skeptical of others. She stressed the 40,000-member union will not sign on without seeing a final draft. Odom said she supports the grant’s aim "to provide a robust student data system” to guide teachers in their instruction and for the evaluation of principals and teachers. In the proposed legislation, such data would likely be collected with a new or improved state standardized test. Student test scores would be tracked statewide to rapidly produce results allowing principals to evaluate a teacher’s performance.