Governor wants to compete for federal money

SACRAMENTO — Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Tuesday urged state lawmakers to get serious about education reforms California must make to compete for a share of $4.3 billion the Obama administration is offering to improve failing schools.

The governor said that legislation the Assembly is scheduled to consider fails to go far enough and will hurt the state’s chances to compete for the money. The Assembly’s education committee is scheduled to meet today.

The administration will award the money to states that have developed the strongest plans to turn around failing schools. That will include proposals to tie teacher evaluations to student performance and expand charter schools.

Schwarzenegger, who called a special legislative session in August to consider the reforms, supports a robust package by Sen. Gloria Romero, D-Los Angeles, that passed the state Senate last month. He said legislation by Assemblywoman Julia Brownley, D-Santa Monica, is more about politics than fixing schools.

“To me, what is important is not to do just the minimum in order to be competitive. That’s the kind of language I hear on the Assembly side,” Schwarzenegger told students at Noralto Elementary School in Sacramento. “We have to be No. 1 to show the federal government that we take those reforms seriously.”

Assembly Speaker Karen Bass, D-Los Angeles, said Brownley’s legislation is written to closely follow the Obama administration’s requirements and was done in consultation with education groups, including the powerful California Teachers Association.

“It is unfortunate that the governor is focused on the wrong competition. It’s not about him,” Bass said in a written statement. “He wants his plan to pass regardless of the merits and regardless of what it would cost our schools. It’s race to the top, not race over a cliff.”

The administration’s Race to the Top initiative is controversial. National teachers unions that typically support Democrats oppose allowing teachers to be evaluated based on student test scores and oppose the expansion of charter schools, most of which are exempt from state education laws and often are not unionized.

Applications for the first round of funding are due Jan. 19.