WASHINGTON, D.C. /California Newswire/ — Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa asked U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan on Friday to empower school districts to apply for Race to the Top grants and for waivers from No Child Left Behind’s rigid regulations.

“New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago each have their own school governance structures,” said Mayor Villaraigosa. “But all three of us understand that mayors must engage in education issues because the health of a city is undeniably linked to the health of its schools.”

Race to the Top is a U.S. Department of Education competitive grant program designed to encourage and reward states that are creating the conditions for education innovation and reform. The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) of 2001 requires schools receiving federal funding to administer a state-wide standardized test annually to all students.

The Race to the Top grant competition and NCLB waivers are currently available only to states, and California is not participating in either program. A NCLB waiver for LAUSD will allow the District to get out from under the restrictions of a flawed system and to focus federal resources where they are needed most.

Mayor Villaraigosa asked Secretary Duncan for his support during the forum “Education Now: Cities at the Forefront of Reform.” The Mayors and Superintendents from Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York joined Secretary Duncan for a panel discussion Friday, March 2nd from 10:00 AM to 11:00 AM ET at American University in Washington D.C. The discussion was moderated by Andrea Mitchell, host of MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell Reports.

Collectively, these three school systems affect nearly 2.5 million students, 77% of whom are poor and 88% of whom are of color. This gathering brought together the reform-minded leaders of America’s three largest cities and their school districts to engage in a dialogue about their challenges and successes.

All three mayors, Antonio Villaraigosa of Los Angeles, Rahm Emanuel of Chicago, and Michael Bloomberg of New York, are at the forefront of education reform in the U.S. and have pursued similar goals, including reducing bureaucracy, improving student learning, and providing parents with better choices.

In Los Angeles, Mayor Villaraigosa has implemented several innovative programs that have resulted in improved test scores and teacher effectiveness since taking office in 2005.

He created a non-profit called the Partnership for Los Angeles Schools which today helps run 22 of the lowest performing schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District, serving more than 17,000 students.

Mayor Villaraigosa also fought for more choices for parents in the LAUSD, increasing the number of charter schools from about 80 in 2005 to almost 200 currently, more than any other school district in the United States.

Under his leadership, Los Angeles has doubled the number of schools meeting the state’s academic goal of 800 on the Academic Performance Index (API). In 2005, approximately one of every three L.A. schools had an API score that was below 650. Today, just one in 10 schools has a score below 650.

Also participating in “Education Now: Cities at the Forefront of Reform” were Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent John Deasy, New York City Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott, and Chicago Public Schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard.