By Ben Wieder, Stateline Staff Writer
School districts can now join the race. The U.S. Department of Education announced Tuesday (May 22) that its latest round of the Race to the Top grant competition will be open to school districts, or groups of schools or districts, for offering more personalized instruction for students.
“I think we all want a school that meets the unique needs of our students,” said Arne Duncan, U.S. Secretary of Education.
Duncan said he expects that the total pool of about $400 million will be split among about 20 grant winners, eligible to receive $15 to $25 million each, based on the number of students they serve.
In the first two rounds of the Race to the Top competition, 11 states and the District of Columbia shared $4 billion in awards for submitting plans to increase standards, track student performance, evaluate teachers and principals based on performance and turn around the worst-performing schools. The rules triggered a number of changes, even among states that didn’t win, but all of the winners have asked to alter their initial proposals and some, notably New York and Hawaii, have faced major roadblocks to achieving their plans. A smaller third round earlier last December split $200 million among seven states that had been finalists in the previous round.
Applicants for the new competition, the details of which are still being finalized, can be either individual districts or consortia of districts or schools that serve at least 2,500 students, with at least 40 percent of the population eligible for free or reduced lunch. More than two-thirds of all school districts serve fewer than 2,500 students, according to the most recent information available from the National Center on Education Statistics.
Charter schools are eligible to apply and the consortia can be made up of schools across several states, meaning that national charter school operators like KIPP could be eligible under the new program, as long as individual charter schools or districts in an application are classified as local education agencies in the state where they are located.
Schools will apply in one of four categories, based on whether they are in a state that won an earlier round of Race to the Top or are rural. While Duncan said that reaching rural districts is a priority, he said that there is no particular quota for each of the categories.