Nathan Deal: Georgia Shouldn't Take "Race to the Top" Money

President Obama's education initiative, "Race to the Top," has been criticized by some who say it unwisely requires states to follow specific educational reforms, rather than letting them set their own agenda. Now, Georgia's two Republican gubernatorial candidates are taking opposing views over whether their state -- facing massive budget shortfalls -- should accept potential funding from the program.

Former Rep. Nathan Deal said today that if elected governor he would decline Race to the Top money, the Atlanta Journal Constitution reports.

"Race to the Top has standardized curriculum," Deal said. "I do not agree with anything that has strings attached."

Deal will face off against former Secretary of State Karen Handel in an Aug. 10 Republican primary. Handel said today she would accept Race to the Top funds, the Journal Constitution reports.

"As long as we're paying taxes to the federal government I think I have a responsibility to make sure Georgia gets its fair share," she said. "We should not turn our nose up at it."

Georgia is one of 18 finalists in the second round of Race to the Top funds to be distributed. The state could receive as much as $400 million over four years from the $3.4 billion initiative.

Race to the Top awards competitive grants to states that implement reforms favored by the administration, such as linking teacher pay to student test performance. The program's goals include setting rigorous learning standards in schools, attracting and keeping top teachers, testing students to evaluate school and teacher performance and taking innovative steps to fix problem schools.

Mr. Obama has called "Race to the Top" "the single most ambitious, meaningful education effort we've attempted in this country in generations."

Deal reportedly said that implementing the Obama administration's preferred reforms is "probably not worth the money."

"In the overall scheme of things it's not that much money," he said. "It sounds big, but when you distribute it across every level of the education system, it's not that big."

The state of Georgia will have to make major spending cuts or revenue increases if it wants to avoid huge budget shortfalls, the Journal Constitution recently reported. That could mean significant changes to education, given that it is the state's biggest cost.

Current Republican Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue is supportive the state's bid for Race to the Top funds and has advocated for merit pay for teachers, one of Race to the Top's preferred reforms.

"This grant is an opportunity to further align funding and state education policies with our desired outcome of improved student achievement," Perdue said about Race to the Top, the Atlanta Business Chronicle reported.

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