N.C. a finalist for 'Race to the Top' education grant

Posted March 4, 2010 11:35 a.m. EST
Updated March 4, 2010 2:07 p.m. EST

— North Carolina is one of 16 states up for consideration in a federal $4.35 billion education grant program that's funded by part of money from the economic stimulus package, the U.S. Department of Education announced Thursday.

Selected from a pool of 41 other applicants are Colorado, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina and Tennessee.

"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. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said.

The "Race to the Top" grants are designed to reward states that have adopted and will continue implementing innovative reforms to improve student performance.

The winners will be chosen in April, and a second round of applications accepted in June.

Gov. Beverly Perdue said Thursday's announcement is "encouraging news" for the state.

"Every child in this state must graduate prepared to go on to college, a career or technical training, and we can accomplish that through innovation and rethinking the way we track our students’ progress," she said. "Race to the Top can help North Carolina move forward faster and more aggressively toward this goal."

The money is part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act,, which provided an unprecedented $100 billion for schools. Much of that has gone toward preventing teacher layoffs and addressing other budget concerns. The $4.35 billion "Race to the Top" fund is targeted specifically for education reform.

Perdue and leaders from the other finalists will visit Washington later this month to present their proposals.

The Education Department said it expects no more than half of the money to be awarded in the first phase of the competition.

Duncan said they are setting a high bar in the first phase and anticipate few winners.

"But this isn't just about the money," Duncan said. "It's about collaboration among all stakeholders, building a shared agenda and challenging ourselves to improve the way our students learn."

Duncan has said the money could go to 10 to 20 states.

The Education Department asked states to concentrate their proposals on four areas prioritized in the Recovery Act: adopting standards and assessments to better prepare students for careers and college; getting high-quality teachers into classrooms; turning around low-performing schools; and creating data systems to track performance.

States also were required to be legally permitted to link student performance data to teacher evaluations.

Critics have questioned the timing, saying the Obama administration is out of touch with state budget needs in putting forward billions in reform at a time when many districts can barely afford basic necessities.