Washington falls short in Race to the Top for school dollars

August 17, 2010

By Chantelle Lusebrink

Washington is out of the running for the Race to the Top federal education grant program.

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan announced 19 states as finalists July 27, but the list did not include Washington.

Race to the Top is a federal, incentive-based grant program that asked states to submit education reform packages to address assessment, teaching standards, early childhood education, graduation rates and the achievement gap.

“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 Chairman Jeff Vincent said in a joint statement released after the July 27 announcement.

“We knew the process would be extremely competitive,” they added.

After a request from 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 government has offered a $3.4 billion grant jackpot to kick-start a more competitive education system. The money could have infused nearly $250 million in education funding to the Evergreen State amid a grim budget forecast. Issaquah would have 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,” 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 state lawmakers through House Bill 2261 — a sweeping reform measure passed last year that remains 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.

The Department of Education intends to announce the winners next month.

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

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