Race to the Top Initiatives Will Benefit Students

The superintendents of School Districts 65 and 202 each signed a Memorandum of Understanding, MOU, with the State of Illinois in which they agreed – at least on a preliminary basis – to participate in the state’s educational reform initiatives that are part of the state’s application for a federal Race to the Top grant. The federal Race to the Top program is a competitive, $4.3 billion education reform program that is designed to encourage and reward states that are promoting educational innovation and reform

We applaud Districts 65 and 202 for signing onto to the Race to the Top reforms for two reasons. First, it improves the State’s chance of obtaining a Race to the Top grant, and it gives each school district a chance to obtain a part of any grant the State may obtain. The State was scheduled to file an application for up to $500 million yesterday.

Second, the educational reform initiatives being proposed in the State’s application are supported by many school reform groups. These initiatives include adopting new rigorous, internationally benchmarked k-12 standards of learning; adopting new assessments that are aligned from k-12; considering student growth in evaluating teachers and principals; requiring school districts to use the EXPLORE, PLAN and ACT tests to assess students; requiring elementary, middle and high schools to work together to assess whether deficiencies may exist in ultimately preparing students for college and career readiness.

If the State receives a Race to the Top grant, participating school districts will have 90 days to submit a “Final Scope of Work” which sets out goals, activities, timelines, and annual targets. Right now, neither District 65’s nor 202’s teachers’ union has signed onto the MOU. By the time the Final Scope of Work is due, we hope the members of each union will have had a chance to examine the MOU and the proposed educational reforms, and see the need to sign onto these reforms.

We commend School Districts 65 and 202 for joining Race to the Top.

NSP2 Grant – A Timely Boon

The timing could hardly have been better. Less than 24 hours after the City Council’s discussion of its goal for affordable housing the City received word of the receipt of a grant of $18.1 million from the Department of Housing and Urban Development in Neighbhorhood stabilization (NSP2) funding.

The funds will be used to help mitigate the devastation caused by an inordinate number of foreclosures in two specific census tracts of the City – one on the City’s west side and the other on the south side.

Evanston has been hit hard by foreclosures, and neighborhood stabilization grants recognize that when too many houses in a neighborhood are foreclosed upon, abandoned or vacant, the entire neighborhood suffers. Negative perceptions arise about a block with several foreclosures. Safety concerns become greater, as abandoned houses are too often used for illegal purposes. These and other factors can demoralize a neighborhood.

The NSP2 money is “clean-up” money; it is meant to help revive an area reeling from foreclosures. The application, which requested $41 million, described two ways this could be done: by purchasing vacant and foreclosed houses, condos and apartment buildings, rehabbing them and returnung them to the marketplace as affordable housing; and by constructing a new, multi-unit housing complex with different types of affordable housing.

It is important to note that, in addition to applying for the NSP2 funds, the City took and continues to take affirmative steps in foreclosure prevention and counseling.

As often happens, the amount of the grant was less than what was requested. But the competition was stiff – foreclosure is a nationwide virus – Evanston was one of only two municipalities in Illinois to receive NSP2 funds. Nonetheless, that $18 million gives everyone a bit of rejoicing before returning to the grim work of addressing the City’s many other long-term financial problems.

Congratulations to everyone who was involved in bringing the NSP2 funds to Evanston, in particular to Dennis Marino and his staff, all of whom worked diligently to prepare and submit the application, and to Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl, who traveled to Washington D.C., where she spoke to Illinois legislators on behalf of this community. We are grateful for their response.