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14 States Fail Gates’ Race to the Top Test

By Michele McNeil — December 17, 2009 2 min read
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With the Race to the Top deadline just around the corner, education policy wonks are already sizing up the competition to figure out who’s already in the lead, and who isn’t.

Vegas odds probably aren’t favoring these 14 states, which didn’t meet the Gates Foundation’s litmus test for qualifying for RttT technical assistance: Delaware, Hawaii, Indiana, Kansas, Maryland, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire, Oregon, South Carolina, South Dakota, and Vermont.

After hearing grumbles from state officials, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation opened up its technical assistance planning grants to all states. Twenty-four applied, and 10 won these Gates-funded grants of up to $250,000 each, which were technically awarded by the New Venture Fund, a grant-making middleman of sorts.

We’ll get to the winning states in a minute.

As for the 14 losing states, according to someone familiar with this grant process, their weak teacher policies did them in. Specifically, these states lost out because of their lackluster policies on teacher tenure, student-teacher data links, and equitable distribution of teachers. (My colleague over at the Teacher Beat told me that many of the losing states have teacher tenure laws that grant this job security in as little as one or two years.)

Gates Foundation spokesman Chris Williams declined to comment.

To get the money, states had to meet eight criteria (outlined in a Gates’ memo) that mirror the criteria by which the U.S. Department of Education has proposed judging applications for $4 billion in aid under the education-reform competition.

Not winning a grant may not bode well for these states’ chances of winning a Race to the Top grant in Round 1, when competition is expected to be very tough. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has said the bar will be very, very high—and that more losers than winners are expected. Teacher policies make up the most significant part of the Race to the Top application, with 28 percent of the total points awarded in this broad category. Not winning a Gates-funded grant was enough to sway Maryland not to apply in Round 1, and was a factor for Vermont too.

The nine states (plus one district!) that won grants of up to $250,000 were: Alabama, Colorado, Connecticut, Washington D.C., Illinois, Iowa, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.

Add to that list Gates’ original Chosen 15, which were hand-picked for $250,000 each in technical assistance: Arkansas, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Texas.

So, there are 25 states that have gotten up to $250,000 thanks to the Gates Foundation to help them complete their Race to the Top applications. This is no small thing, and in a tight competition, this could mean the difference between winning and losing.

If you’re keeping track, those states that did not ask for Gates’ help—the Disinterested Dozen—are: Alaska, California, Idaho, Maine, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, North Dakota, Utah, Virginia, Washington, Wyoming. Notice that New Jersey and Virginia, which have recently replaced their Democratic governors with Republican ones in the 2009 elections, are on this list.

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