Commentary: Did Schwarzenegger trick Legistalure on Race to the Top?

It's not often that California's educational establishment — led by the very powerful California Teachers Association — loses a Capitol battle, especially when it's pitted against its archenemies in the school reform movement.

That's what made the approval in January of two major education reform measures, targeting low-performing schools and empowering parents to force school site change, so striking.

Reformers, led by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and EdVoice, an advocacy group financed by a few wealthy civic leaders, and the CTA-led establishment have been jousting for years over whether schools must have more money to get better, or could and should be improved without extra funds.

The reform faction, however, gained a powerful ally in President Barack Obama, who offered $4.35 billion to states that met his Race to the Top criteria.

Obama's education secretary, Arne Duncan, singled out California as he pressed states to adopt reforms that unions dislike, such as increasing charter schools and using student test data for teacher evaluations.

It put Democratic legislators, who usually march to the CTA drumbeat, in a bind. If they refused to do what Schwarzenegger and Obama demanded, they'd look like obstructionists who were sacrificing children's education by ignoring as much as $700 million from the feds, even though it's scarcely 1 percent of school spending. But if they enacted the reforms, they'd be alienating powerful allies.

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