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Education Funding

RTTT Runners-Up Not Jumping at Chance to Split $200 Million

By Michele McNeil — May 26, 2011 3 min read
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It seems some of the nine states who are eligible to share a Race to the Top consolation prize are looking at the $200 million Education Secretary Arne Duncan has offerred them with a wary eye. After all, the most any of the states would likely get is $50 million, and some could wind up with as little as $10 million.

South Carolina already says it has no interest in the money.

Now, Pennsylvania officials are telling me they might apply, but will not be submitting any part of the old application, which failed to win a share of the original $4 billion pot. The state’s Race to the Top plans were crafted under the Democratic administration of former Gov. Ed Rendell. Now, Republican Gov. Tom Corbett is running the show. Any proposal would be an entirely new one, Pennsylvania Department of Education spokesman Timothy Eller said. That would conflict with what the U.S. Department of Education wants to do with the money, which is to let states implement part of their original plans as part of this latest round.

Kentucky’s participation isn’t a sure thing either. State education department spokeswoman Lisa Gross told us the state is always on the lookout for additional funding streams, but would review the offer “closely.”

And the National Governors Association, in general, is clearly perturbed at how this whole thing went down—and by that we mean that governors, who will be the ones applying for this money, seemed to have been left out of any decision-making process. NGA spokeswoman Jodi Omear sent me this statement yesterday:

The timing of today's announcement was surprising given that just last week the Department of Education asked for gubernatorial input to help determine how best to implement the third round of the Race to the Top program. Obviously, we will need to discuss the details of this new federal program with governors before commenting on the specifics. However, what is clear, is that incorporating gubernatorial input is critical. Governors learned several important lessons through the first two rounds of Race to the Top—lessons that can help improve the program. We strongly encourage the [Education Department] to work in a transparent, open process and establish a clear, reasonable timeline to authentically work with governors.

The Politics K-12 translation: NGA is miffed that the department asked for its advice, but didn’t really have any intention of taking it—and that the organization representing all governors has not been clued in to how the third round is going to work.

Joan Wodiska, the NGA’s education committee director, told me yesterday that the department had a meeting with NGA on May 17 to solicit the organization’s input on what the third round should look like. NGA promised to work quickly to gather governors’ input, but the next thing they knew, eight days later the department was announcing an entirely new competition and a second chance for the nine finalist states from last year.

“We learned a lot of new things in rounds one and two that would help inform [the department’s] work,” Wodiska told me. She said governors now have big questions about the timeline and process for these two programs. She also noted that there are 29 new governors, most of whom don’t have a shot at the $200 million.

Justin Hamilton, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Education, said the department meant no slight. “We think the NGA is a critical partner in our efforts to reform national K-12 education. We’ve always valued their leadership and look forward to continuing our important work with them.”

He added that the department had to move quickly to implement the programs, since the money has to be out the door by Dec. 31. For the $200 million available to the nine finalists, Hamilton said: “We didn’t have time to re-regulate and establish a brand new competition. Our preference was to capitalize on the hard work that had already been completed and not ask anyone to duplicate anything or start over.”

There are at least two states gung-ho for the money. New Jersey Republican Gov. Chris Christie is all for it. “Yes, we will be applying,” his spokeswoman, Maria Comella, told me today.

Count Colorado in, too. “I am pleased that the [department] is making these opportunities available,” said Robert Hammond, Colorado Commissioner of Education in a statement. “We have every intent to apply, and we are eager to see how well the grants’ parameters align with the ambitious reform initiatives Colorado is moving forward.”

If other states keep dropping out, that just means more money for Colorado and New Jersey‐and any other finalist state that wants in.

[UPDATE (1 p.m.): Louisiana is also planning to go after the money. “We are very pleased to hear that President Obama and Secretary Duncan recognize the need to allocate these funds to states, like Louisiana, who are focusing their own resources to implement critical reforms outlined in Race to the Top,” Acting State Superintendent of Education Ollie Tyler said in a statement.]

[UPDATE (1:30 P.M.): Arizona is “very interested” in applying for the money, said state education department spokesman Andrew T. LeFevre.]