President Obama Touts Education Reform on Anniversary of Election

The White House's Barnes said on Tuesday that a number of other states, including Illinois, Tennessee, Ohio, Connecticut and Rhode Island have raised their charter caps or defeated proposed cuts to charter school funding, so that they too can compete.

Wisconsin's state legislature will vote on Thursday on legislation similar to California's that would allow student performance to impact teacher pay. If the measure does not pass, Wisconsin will not be eligible for Race to the Top dollars.

"Ultimately, this idea is really simple," Barnes said, "We want to support strategies that are working and replicate them all over the country. We will subject every application that we get to a rigorous review. And we will only award grants to those that demonstrate real commitment and real results. That's the president's ultimate goal."

Duncan admitted in July that he worries about students who may suffer if their states do not adopt the requirements, and he hopes the grants will serve as a large incentive for reform.

"We're going to do this in two rounds so districts that aren't doing the right things, that aren't serious about reform, will have a chance to come back," Duncan said. "This is not a federal mandate, this is really just an incentive.

"You'll see some folks who will be sort of business-as-usual and not challenge the status quo," he added, "and you'll see other places where they're really willing to innovate, really willing to push the envelope and get dramatically better -- and that's who we want to invest in."

Critics Say Funding Is Not Enough for the Reform the White House Wants

Some, however, claim that the program is not using nearly enough money to create the kind of reform that this administration is hoping to see.

"It's $5 billion, which sounds like a whole lot of money," the American Enterprise Institute's Andrew Smarick said. "There's about $100 billion in the whole stimulus plan for education. This is just a small chunk, so we really have to manage our expectations about what it's going to be able to accomplish."

Smarick voiced concerns that states ultimately may do what they wish with the one-time cash infusion.

"There is this concern that maybe a state gets $200 million and then, at the end of a year or two, they have nothing to show for it other than preserving jobs and programs," he said. "But this is a problem when you give away big sums of money and just give it to states for things that they promise to do."

Duncan did not offer clear specifics on how the Department of Education would monitor how the money was being spent, but promised "unparalleled transparency."

"We want to work with these states on a forward-going basis to make sure we're all learning from each other," he said. "I'm sure states will make some mistakes. This won't happen perfectly. But there's going to be a lot more good that can come out of this."

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