State News

N.C. misses out on first 'Race to the Top' grants

Posted March 29, 2010 11:38 a.m. EDT
Updated March 29, 2010 2:10 p.m. EDT

— North Carolina missed out on the first round of education reform grants from the federal government Monday, drawing a blow to Gov. Bev Perdue's efforts to find other sources of revenue to move forward quickly her own public school initiatives.

Perdue spokeswoman Chrissy Pearson confirmed Monday that the state didn't win an award in the "Race to the Top" competition.

North Carolina was one of the 16 finalists, but the U.S. Department of Education chose Delaware and Tennessee for the first awards, according to a source who declined to be identified because not all finalists had been contacted.

It wasn't immediately clear how much money the winning states will receive, although their applications had sought about $600 million combined. A formal announcement was expected Monday afternoon.

State schools superintendent June Atkinson expressed disappointment, but said that education officials would turn their attention to the second round of applications due in June. North Carolina had sought $469.5 million over four years.

"We clearly made a strong showing, and with more than $3 billion up for grabs in June, we will be back," Perdue said.

North Carolina education officials will know in detail how they performed compared to the other finalists. The U.S. Department of Education planned to post application scores.

Charter school advocates said North Carolina's grant proposal was handcuffed from the start because the state hadn't shown enough to help the alternative schools succeed. North Carolina has limited the number of charter schools to no more than 100 since they began in 1996. A bill approved by the House last year would have raised the cap to 106.

"It is clear to that this administration is taking choice in education seriously," said Darrell Allison, president of Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina, a pro-charter school group. "We missed a big opportunity, but lawmakers have time during the upcoming short session to position North Carolina more competitively before the second round of applications are due."

Sen. Larry Shaw, D-Cumberland, said he would push for state lawmakers to give more support to charter schools.

“It is inexcusable for North Carolina to leave $400 million on the table,” Shaw said. “I’m sure my colleagues would agree that charter school legislation must be at the top of the agenda when the General Assembly reconvenes in May.”

State Republican leaders said a lack of leadership on the part state Democrats meant that North Carolina didn't pursue the educational goals favored by the Obama administration.

"Perdue’s vision for education is more of the same policies that failed to prove successful in the 'Race to the Top' review," Sen. Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, said. "Legislative Democrats have shown the same lack of interest in common sense reforms such as pay for performance and expanding public charter school opportunities for student.”

Perdue argued she had successfully petitioned U.S. Secretary Arne Duncan's office to change the grant rules so that North Carolina and other states could promote other innovative schools besides charters.

Duncan called her this morning and encouraged the state to seek funding in the second round, Perdue said. He praised the new "Ready Set Go!" initiative, designed to prepare every child to graduate from high school with the skills to succeed in a career or attend a community college, university or technical training.

North Carolina will likely have to delay several initiatives that were cited in the application, Atkinson said. Perdue said in January that she also was working to shift money away from outdated or unnecessary state programs to find additional cash for "Ready Set Go!"

North Carolina's application sought grant money in part to expand the use of technology, particularly hand-held computers for teachers, to perform diagnostic assessments on students.

The money also would have beefed up efforts to turn around low-performing schools, improve training for administrators and give higher pay to teachers who serve in rural areas or the lowest-performing schools.

"Race to the Top" is designed to encourage the use of innovative programs to improve student performance and transform struggling schools. The money was in the economic stimulus bill sought by President Barack Obama and signed into law last year.