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Feds ready 3rd round of ‘Race to Top’ for schools

Grant program to include pre-K

- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Education Secretary Arne Duncan is expected to announce Wednesday morning the third round of Race to the Top, which will include new rewards for states that improve their pre-kindergarten education programs.

Mr. Duncan will make the announcement at 10 a.m. at a press conference with Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

A joint press release from the Education and HHS departments says only that a "major announcement" regarding Race to the Top and "early learning" is forthcoming.

But documents from the National Governors Association obtained by The Washington Times on Tuesday state that, in addition to the K-12 competitions held twice before, states can now also compete for grant money by strengthening efforts to educate 3- and 4-year-olds.

"Federal funds would be divided between an early-education and K-12 competition. Exact amounts have yet to be determined," the NGA document says.

About $700 million has been appropriated to Race to the Top's third phase, and Education is under orders to "obligate all funds by Dec. 31, 2011," according to the NGA.

The program rewards states with money based on how they improve teacher quality, turn around failing schools, develop high-quality student assessments and a variety of other factors. Delaware took the top prize in the first round, netting about $100 million. Massachusetts won round two.

Several other states that finished out of the top spot but still demonstrated progress were also awarded grants. Some states, such as Texas, have refused to participate in the program altogether.

"Under the program's rules, Washington gives preference and dollars to states that agree to adopt [Common Core] standards," Texas Gov. Rick Perry said last year, defending his decision to forgo one of the Obama administration's signature education initiatives.

A majority of states have adopted the standards, which will be implemented in the 2014-2015 school year. In rounds one and two, the adoption of Common Core boosted states' scores in Race to the Top. That is expected to remain the case in round three.

Even before Mr. Duncan's and Mrs. Sebelius' announcement, some Republicans began to question the wisdom of continuing the program.

Race to the Top "puts the federal government in the position of picking winners and losers, which might not sound too bad on the surface, but in reality creates a top-down approach," because the Education Department makes the rules and then awards money based on those standards, said Joe Kasper, spokesman for Rep. Duncan Hunter, California Republican and chairman of the House Education and Workforce early childhood, elementary and secondary education subcommittee.

The NGA has also heard concerns from states, some of which worry the program limits innovations like charter schools. States are also concerned about the "administrative burden" of the program, according to the NGA.

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