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Gates Broadening ‘Race to Top’ Aid

By Michele McNeil — September 29, 2009 2 min read
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The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which earlier handpicked 15 states to receive up to $250,000 each to help prepare applications for federal Race to the Top Fund grants, will now offer aid to the other 35 states, too—if they meet eight education reform criteria.

That’s according to a Sept. 21 memo that Vicki Phillips, the director of the foundation’s education initiatives, sent to the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers.

Before states can get an unspecified amount of money from Gates, they must meet foundation conditions that mirror the criteria by which the U.S. Department of Education has proposed judging applications for $4 billion in aid under the Race to the Top reform competition. (“Hurdles Ahead in ‘Race to Top’,” Aug. 26, 2009.)

The Gates Foundation criteria include whether states have signed on to the NGA-CCSSO common-standards effort, whether they have alternative routes to teacher certification, and whether they permit the use of student-achievement data in teacher evaluations.

Chris Williams, a spokesman for the Seattle-based foundation, said he couldn’t say how much money states might receive, either individually or collectively. He wouldn’t elaborate on why the foundation decided to open up its resources to the rest of the states.

However, Ms. Phillips’ memo gives a clue, indicating that the change was the result of “much discussion and careful consideration” of feedback the foundation received from the NGA and the CCSSO.

Dane Linn, the education division director of the NGA’s Center for Best Practices, said there was concern—especially amid the economic downturn—that some states would have an advantage over others.

“We are really pleased that Gates will make investments that will put everyone on equal footing,” he said, adding that neither the NGA nor the CCSSO had anything to do with the eight conditions Gates set.

“We’ve got to create national momentum,” he said. “We can’t have reform in just [a few] states.”

The 15 states initially slated to receive Gates money are Arkansas, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Texas.

The foundation will use the Arabella Legacy Fund, a grant-management group it has used before for some of its global-health initiatives, as the middleman for the grants. Arabella staff members will run what seems to be a warm-up to the Race to the Top competition—they will review the states’ grant proposals to Gates, answer questions, make the awards, and execute contracts.

Gates also provides grant support to Editorial Projects in Education, which publishes Education Week.

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A version of this article appeared in the September 30, 2009 edition of Education Week as Gates Broadening ‘Race to Top’ Aid


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