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Md., Pa. among 19 Race to the Top finalists

WCPS could receive $2.8 million in grant money

July 27, 2010|By JULIE E. GREENE

Maryland and Pennsylvania are among 19 finalists for a pot of about $3 billion available through Race to the Top, the Obama Administration's education reform initiative.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced grant finalists during a speech Tuesday at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., that was aired on C-SPAN 2. Grant winners from this second round of applications are expected to be announced in September.

The education reform initiative requires states that want a portion of the $4.35 billion Race to the Top Fund to submit proposals explaining how they would address four areas:

o Turning around low-achieving schools

o Adopting standards that prepare students to succeed in college and the workplace in a global economy

o Building data systems to measure student growth, helping teachers improve instruction

o Recruiting, developing, rewarding and retaining effective teachers and principals

If Maryland receives the full $250 million for which it is eligible, Washington County Public Schools could receive $2.8 million in Race to the Top grant money over a four-year period, according to draft estimates from the Maryland Department of Education.

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It was unclear if grant recipients would get all the money they requested.

During a conference call with reporters, Duncan was asked whether each winner would get its total funding request filled or if education officials would cut those amounts to make room for more states getting grants.

"That's an option," Duncan said, but education officials won't make those decisions until they have a clear understanding of how the 19 finalists scored and which are the best investment of taxpayer dollars.

"My goal is not to fund every state. My goal is to fund as many very strong applications as we can," Duncan said.

Finalists will go to Washington, D.C., in August to face a panel of five reviewers, Duncan said. Finalists' abilities to implement their education reform plans will affect their scores and, hence, their chances at winning a grant, according to Duncan.

Duncan said there could be 10 to 15 winners in this round, depending on whether large or small states win. Delaware and Tennessee won grants during the first round.

The 19 finalists requested approximately $6.2 billion, Duncan said. There is about $3.4 billion available.

Unlike some school systems, Washington County is not relying on the money to keep operations going, Schools Superintendent Elizabeth Morgan said.

"It's not going to make or break us," she said.

"For us, again, it would really be some money that we could use for piloting programs and some innovation," she said.

That could translate into trying new things at Western Heights Middle School to boost student achievement, Morgan said. The middle school is considered in "school improvement" after it failed to meet Maryland School Assessment standards, according to results released last week.

The grant money also could help with college and career readiness by making more rigorous courses available to more students and it could help with vocational offerings, Morgan said.

The other finalists are Arizona, California, Colorado, the District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Rhode Island and South Carolina.

Fannett-Metal School District in northern Franklin County, Pa., was the only local Pennsylvania school district to submit a memorandum of understanding with the state's grant application, according to a June news release from the Pennsylvania Department of Education.

After not winning a grant during the first round of Race to the Top, West Virginia did not submit a grant application for the second round.

There are issues state legislators need to deal with to make the Mountain State's next application more viable, said Liza Cordeiro, spokeswoman for the West Virginia Department of Education. State lawmakers were unable to address all of those issues during a special session this spring and another one in July, she said.

One of those items is the requirement under Race to the Top that calls for tying teacher evaluations to student achievement. A law needs to be passed to enable that connection, Cordeiro said.

Maryland lawmakers passed such a law earlier this year.

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