Race to the Top finalists compete for federal education grants

President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan

Education Secretary Arne Duncan, right, named 18 states and Washington D.C. as Race to the Top finalists that will compete for $3.4 billion in federal education grants. Flickr photo.

Race to the Top is a competition for more than $3 billion in federal education reform grants. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced Wednesday that 18 states and the District of Columbia are finalists in the second round of  Race to the Top. In states that advanced, such as California, various school districts cooperated to apply for the money. In Nevada, which didn’t make the cut, politicians pointed fingers and called the program big government.

Race to the Top finalists vie for $3.4 billion

In March, the first round of Race to the Top winners, Delaware and Tennessee, received $100 million and $500 million respectively. The U.S. Department of Education will award $3.4 billion in federal education grants in the second phase. Race to the Top finalists are Arizona, California, Colorado, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and South Carolina. They will compete in August in the interview portion of the competition. Race to the top winners will be announced in September.

A ‘quiet revolution’ in education reform

In announcing the Race to the Top finalists in a speech to the National Press Club in Washington, Duncan called the program part of “a quiet revolution” in education reform. Race to the Top supporters say the biggest accomplishment of the program is that it motivates states to take on controversial reforms before spending any money. Since Race to the Top was announced, the Department of Education Reform said 23 states have passed education reform laws on things like charter schools and teacher evaluations to improve their chances of winning.

California cooperates to advance

Race to the Top finalist California made the cut after placing 27th out of 40 in the first round. The San Francisco Chronicle reports that across the state, 300 local school districts and county offices of education signed on to the Race to the Top application, agreeing to implement the reforms it outlined. California’s Race to the Top application, written by superintendents from seven school districts, highlighted what districts are already doing to turn around struggling schools, evaluate and support teachers and principals, and measure student performance. The state also committed to adopting new national academic standards in English, math and other subjects.

Nevada politicians blame each other for failure

Nevada paid a consultant $40,000 to write its unsuccessful Race to the Top application. Fox News Las Vegas reports that Nevada’s failure to reach the finals sparked a fury of finger-pointing. Democratic Senator Harry Reid accused Republican Governor Jim Gibbons of a “lack of leadership.” Gibbons said Reid never “lifted a finger” to help the state compete. Republican Senate candidate Sharon Angle also criticized Reid about Race to the Top, even though she wants less federal involvement in schools and has called for eliminating the Department of Education.

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