Issaquah School District stands to lose after Washington stumbles in Race to the Top

July 27, 2010

By Chantelle Lusebrink

NEW — 4 p.m. July 27, 2010

It’s official. Washington is out of the running for the Race to the Top federal education grant program.

On Tuesday, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan announced 19 states as finalists advancing to the next round. Washington was not among them.

Race to the Top is an incentive-based grant program that asked states to submit bold education reform packages addressing assessment, teaching standards and professional development, early childhood education, increasing graduation rates and requirements, and closing the achievement gap.

The grant money is part of a nationwide initiative to kick-start a more competitive education system. At stake is a $3.4 billion grant jackpot to advance plans of the final states selected.

“We are disappointed that the Department of Education did not select Washington to move forward in their competition for these federal education dollars,” Gov. Chris Gregoire, state Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn and State Board of Education Chair Jeff Vincent said in a joint statement released Tuesday. “We knew the process would be extremely competitive.”

After a request from the Gregoire this spring, Issaquah and 265 of the state’s 295 school districts — including the Lake Washington, Snoqualmie Valley and Renton districts — signed on as partners to the state’s Race to the Top application.

The federal money could have infused nearly $250 million in education funding to the state amid a grim budget forecast. Issaquah would have also received a slice of that money.

“The Issaquah School District is disappointed that Washington state didn’t get those funds because every single bit helps in our funding crisis as it stands,” Issaquah district spokeswoman Sara Niegowski said. “But the good news is, just the efforts behind Race to the Top has everyone thinking about best practices in education and making all children get the best education possible.”

Washington entered the second round of Race to the Top to help fund and accelerate the state’s education reform partly ushered in by House Bill 2261 — a sweeping reform measure passed in 2009, but still in development.

The bill essentially re-creates the state’s education funding system and accountability mechanisms, and overhauls academic expectations from birth through 12th grade, including more rigorous math and science expectations. It also committed to adopting the national academic standards under creation now and commits to create financial incentives to get the best teachers and principals into rural, high-poverty and low-achieving schools.

Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and South Carolina advance to the next Race to the Top round. Department of Education intend to announce the winners in September.

The department already awarded Tennessee and Delaware already a total of $600 million during the first round of the competition.

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