'Race' Deja Vu

If the education news you read over the last 24 hours sounds familiar, it's because of a January and June deadline for Race to the Top.
by | June 1, 2010

Updated June 2 with Ed.gov's final numbers for round two.

If the education news you heard or read recently sounds familiar, it's because a few months ago, 40 states and D.C. submitted their plans for Race to the Top. June 1 was the second deadline for the federal education competition, one more opportunity for states to win a slice of $4.3 billion for proposing and initiating education reforms.

So what's different this time around? The first thing to note is that states who apply in this round can't ask for more than the prize ceiling Dept. of Ed. set for states, as seperated into five groups. In the first round, it wasn't unusual for states to ask for more than was the Education Department recommended. The first round winners, Delaware and Tennessee, are getting $100 million and $500 million respectively. The recommeneded ceiling for Delaware and Tennessee was $75 million and $250 million, respectively. This time, states have to keep their requests within the range the Dept. of Ed. set.

The second difference is a drop in the number of states expected to participate. The Washington Post reported 35 states and D.C. applying and expected a number of states to sit out. (Update: Ed.gov confirms 35 states and D.C.) Texas Gov. Rick Perry said it would opt out of RttT long ago. Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell wrote in a letter to Education Secretary Arne Duncan that the state would have to "lower our standards" in order to be competitive. Others faced major obstacles to improving their application -- for example, in Minnesota, Gov. Tim Pawlenty opted out of applying for round two, claiming in a press release that the legislature did not pass reforms needed to make its application stronger.

There are a few first-time entrants in this round, which I mentioned in my February story about states' rush to pass legislation to be competitive in Race to the Top. Officials from Maryland, Maine and Washington state told me in January that they wanted the extra time to pass education reforms and gather support for their state's bid. All three of them submitted their applications today and reconfirmed that the extra time was critical to their applications. In addition, Mississippi, Montana, and Nevada are also first time entrants.

States that applied in round one but did not win any money could also use these last few months to strengthen their application and reapply in round two.

We won't know which of these strategies worked best -- redoing a first-round application or using the extra time to prepare a first application for the second round -- until department officials call the finalists to Washington, D.C. this summer and award prizes this fall.

Tina Trenkner
Tina Trenkner | Deputy Editor, GOVERNING.com | ttrenkner@governing.com  |  @tinatrenkner