Sanders: Rural states left behind on ed funding

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NEAL P. GOSWAMI

Staff Writer

BENNINGTON -- Rural states should have a real chance to secure education funding in the next round of grants under the federal Race to the Top program launched by the Obama administration.

Vermont independent Sen. Bernie Sanders said U.S. Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan assured him Wednesday that funding will be available to rural states. Sanders sought a meeting with Duncan after $5 billion in grants so far distributed went to more urban states.

"I and other senators from rural states have been very disappointed that as part of this Race to the Top, $5 billion -- and that's a lot of money even in Washington -- has been distributed and rural states have not gotten a nickel," Sanders said in a telephone interview.

The grant program was launched as part of the federal stimulus bill to provide additional education funding to states that seek innovative reforms in K-12 education. But Sanders said more than half of the states have received no funding, including some with high poverty rates. Vermont's application for a four-year, $50 million early childhood education was rejected in November, he said.

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"I made it clear to the secretary that it is just unacceptable," Sanders said, "I think he is increasingly aware that rural states are not happy with the situation."

Duncan said the next round of grants -- about $350 million in available funding -- will include funding specifically designated for rural states, according to Sanders. "What he assured me is that in the next grant program there will be a carve out," Sanders said.

Sanders said he will remain dissatisfied with the grant program until rural states like Vermont begin to receive funding for their proposed reforms. "The whole point of the senator's meeting was that things have been stacked in favor of urban states," the senator's Chief of Staff Huck Gutman said.

Sanders also said Wednesday that Duncan is willing to speak directly to Vermont education officials to help resolve differences the state has with the Bush-era No Child Left Behind requirements. The state initially sought a waiver from the law's requirements, as 19 other states have done. But Vermont officials agreed last month to withdraw the waiver request because it was still too restrictive.

Vermont officials want to dump the annual standardized tests required under NCLB. The law requires that students be proficient in math and reading by 2014. A waiver would allow states to design their own education plans. Vermont officials hoped to design a different assessment method, but decided to drop the request for a waiver when informed that yearly testing would still be required.

"State officials felt that the U.S. Department of Education was inflexible, was not listening to the needs of Vermont. I got assurances from Duncan that he would be personally willing to sit down with state officials and see how this can be resolved," Sanders said.

Duncan has not made "any definitive commitments," according to Sanders.


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