Special Report
Education Funding

Race to Top Winners Get Guidance on Plan Alterations

By Sean Cavanagh — January 08, 2011 4 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

The Obama administration has released guidance meant to spell out what kinds of amendments it will accept to plans submitted by states that won a share of $4 billion in grants under the federal Race to the Top competition—and the types of changes that would put the awardees’ funding at risk.

In documents sent to governors and other state officials late last week, U.S. Department of Education officials explained that amendments to plans must be “consistent with the underlying principles,” of the high-profile competition, in which 11 states and the District of Columbia won grants of up to $700 million.

Those core principles include sticking to academic targets and maintaining a level of support from teachers’ unions and state boards of education sufficient to ensure that their plans can be carried out.

To date, department officials have been guarded in describing how far winning states could go in seeking to make changes to promises in their Race to the Top plans. The new guidance still seems to leave room for interpretation and negotiation between federal officials and states.

The guidance specifically says that states must seek approval to make changes to their academic goals and timelines, to make “major” alterations to their budgets, or to add or delete schools or districts from their plans.

The winners in the two rounds of the competition had a three-month window after their awards were announced—the second announcement came in August—to make changes to the number of participating districts. Those proposed changes, described in required state “scope of work” documents, are still being reviewed by federal officials, and the new guidance does not apply to those earlier changes; it instead applies to additional alterations going forward, the department said.

The department “recognizes that there may come a time when a grantee may need to revise its plan due to unforeseen circumstances in order to keep on its path to reform,” writes Joseph C. Conaty, the interim director of the Race to the Top program, in a letter to state officials. But he adds that if awardees are “implementing unapproved changes” or not meeting other goals and requirements, federal officials “will take appropriate enforcement actions.”

Department spokeswoman Sandra Abrevaya said in a statement that the administration’s goal is to be “both supportive and transparent” in working with states. Some states have asked the department for flexibility on time lines, budgets, and decisions about whether the state or outside contractors conduct various aspects of the work, she noted, and the department wanted to give them direction.

“The bar is set as high as it was when the competition began,” Ms. Abrevaya said. “This guidance is part of a major undertaking at the department to ensure that states are able to live up to their commitments for education reform.”

While much of the language in the guidance seems fairly “perfunctory,” federal officials also seem intent on warning states not to break the promises they made in their plans, said Timothy Daly, the president of The New Teacher Project, a New York-based nonprofit that seeks to improve the quality of instruction for needy students.

He pointed to language in the guidance saying that states should not make changes that “decrease or eliminate” reform as telling.

“They’re basically saying if the state attempts to not follow through, or makes changes that water down what they’re doing, that will not be viewed as a small deviation,” Mr. Daly said.

Federal officials were wise to release the guidance now, to try to set a uniform standard for judging states’ requests, he added, so that they weren’t later accused of judging them arbitrarily, or based on political considerations. Mr. Daly’s organization recently completed an analysis that was critical of the scoring process used for judging states’ Race to the Top applications.

The Race to the Top program, created in 2009 as part of the federal economic-stimulus package, invited states to compete for hundreds of millions of dollars in cash awards, which they could win by promising to make major innovations in areas such as instruction, charter school expansion, mathematics and science education, and turning around struggling schools.

Since it announced the competition in 2009, the administration estimates that 34 states have changed education laws or policies in areas such as teacher evaluation, improved data systems, and the adoption of common standards.

In March, Delaware and Tennessee were named as winners in the first round, securing about $100 million and $500 million, respectively. Ten more awardees were named in August: the District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, and Rhode Island. Their awards ranged from $75 million to $700 million.

In “scope of work” documents submitted by winning round-two states in November, some local participants opted out of states’ plans, citing costs or bureaucratic hurdles, ranging from a handful of districts in Florida to several dozen schools in Ohio.

Under the new guidance, winners seeking to amend plans must submit requests for the department’s review. Amendments will be approved only if they are deemed necessary and consistent with Race to the Top principles, Mr. Conaty wrote in his letter to state officials. Any approved changes to state plans—and the state’s rationale for seeking a change—will be posted on the department’s website. States that try to make unapproved changes, the department said, could face actions ranging from additional oversight to loss of award funds.

A version of this article appeared in the January 12, 2011 edition of Education Week as Race to Top Winners Get Guidance on Plan Alterations

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
IT Infrastructure & Management Webinar
From Chaos to Clarity: How to Master EdTech Management and Future-Proof Your Evaluation Processes
The road to a thriving educational technology environment is paved with planning, collaboration, and effective evaluation.
Content provided by Instructure
Special Education Live Online Discussion A Seat at the Table - Special Education: Proven Interventions for Academic Success
Special education should be a launchpad, not a label. Join the conversation on how schools can better support ALL students.
Special Education K-12 Essentials Forum Innovative Approaches to Special Education
Join this free virtual event to explore innovations in the evolving landscape of special education.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education Funding Jim Crow-Era School Funding Hurt Black Families for Generations, Research Shows
Mississippi dramatically underfunded Black schools in the Jim Crow era, with long-lasting effects on Black families.
5 min read
Abacus with rolls of dollar banknotes
iStock/Getty
Education Funding What New School Spending Data Show About a Coming Fiscal Cliff
New data show just what COVID-relief funds did to overall school spending—and the size of the hole they might leave in school budgets.
4 min read
Photo illustration of school building and piggy bank.
F. Sheehan for Education Week + iStock / Getty Images Plus
Education Funding When There's More Money for Schools, Is There an 'Objective' Way to Hand It Out?
A fight over the school funding formula in Mississippi is kicking up old debates over how to best target aid.
7 min read
Illustration of many roads and road signs going in different directions with falling money all around.
iStock/Getty
Education Funding Explainer How Can Districts Get More Time to Spend ESSER Dollars? An Explainer
Districts can get up to 14 additional months to spend ESSER dollars on contracts—if their state and the federal government both approve.
4 min read
Illustration of woman turning back hands on clock.
Education Week + iStock / Getty Images Plus Week