NY ‘Races to the Top’ of grant competition

New York is among 15 states and the District of Columbia that emerged as finalists in a federal grant program that aims to overhaul American education.

The Race to the Top Fund, authorized under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, lured 41 applicants with $4.35 billion in funding.

The initiative mandates that recipient states realize significant improvement in student achievement and close achievement gaps; improve high school graduation rates; and ensure student preparation for success in college and the workplace. States must also implement plans to adopt internationally-benchmarked student preparation standards; create systems to measure success and inform educators of progress; increase teacher effectiveness; and improve under-achieving schools.

The winning states, to be chosen from among the finalists and announced in April, will receive a proportion of the purse relative to their score from a panel of peer reviewers. As part of the selection process, New York representatives traveled to Washington, D.C. and presented the state’s proposals to a panel on Tuesday, March 16. Competitors presented on the 16 and the 17.

“These states are an example for the country of what is possible when adults come together to do the right thing for children,” U.S. Department of Education (DOE) Secretary Arne Duncan said of the finalists, adding that all Race to the Top applicants are “charting a path for education reform in America.”

New York is among a number of other East Coast finalists as well as Colorado, Ohio, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee and Louisiana.

Ninety-four percent of eligible school districts and charter schools across New York submitted a signed memorandum of understanding in support of the state’s application, according to the state Board of Regents. New York stands to receive up to $700 million in federal funding.

New Yorkers like Mayor Michael Bloomberg and NYC Charter School Center CEO James Merriman applauded the state’s inclusion among the Race to the Top finalists, while cautioning that much work remains to be done.

Bloomberg said New York “is not trying to be a finalist – we’re trying to be a winner.” The mayor explained that the state’s application is hindered by its cap on charter schools – which are a main focus of President Barack Obama’s education plan – and a current law that may prevent the use of data to evaluate educators before granting lifetime employment.

Bloomberg’s and Merriman’s emphasis on lifting the charter school cap reflects the position of Governor David Paterson, who convened a special session of state legislators on January 18, the eve of the Race to the Top application deadline. However, the lawmakers failed to pass his bill, which would have increased charter schools in the Empire State.

Any state not awarded Race to the Top funding – including those that did not apply in Phase 1 – will have the chance to re-work their proposals and apply again during the second phase of the process.

But the contest is not just about money, according to the DOE’s Duncan.

“I feel that every state that has applied is a winner – and the biggest winners of all are the students,” he said.


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