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Education Funding

UPDATED: Gates Spreading ‘Race to the Top’ Help to All States

By Michele McNeil — September 23, 2009 2 min read

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which handpicked 15 states for $250,000 each in funding to help them prepare their Race to the Top Fund applications, is going to offer assistance to the remaining 35 states—if they meet eight education reform criteria.

That’s according to a memo Vicki Phillips, the foundation’s director of education, college ready, sent yesterday to the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers.

But before states can get an unspecified amount of money, they must meet eight criteria (outlined in Phillips’ 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.

The Gates Foundation criteria includes whether states have signed onto the NGA-CCSSO common standards effort, whether they have alternative routes to teacher certification, and whether they have no firewall barring the use of student achievement data in teacher evaluations.

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

However, Phillips’ email gives a clue, indicating that whatever the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers said to foundation officials in response to the Chosen 15 was effective. In her email, Phillips indicates the change was the result of “much discussion and careful consideration of your feedback.”

UPDATE: Dane Linn, the education division director of the NGA’s Center for Best Practices, said that there was concern—especially in this 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 this morning. “We’ve got to create national momentum. We can’t have reform in just [a few] states.”

The foundation’s initial Chosen 15 were: Arkansas, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Texas.

After these states were chosen, there was a lot of discussion in the ed policy world that these 15 had an early edge in Race to the Top.

It’s clear these states are still foundation favorites. Phillips’ email says: “These states...are poised to successfully scale reform efforts that can dramatically improve student achievement. Accordingly, these states will be targets for further foundation investment provided they continue to follow through on these commitments.”

UPDATE: I should point out that Gates is going to use the Arabella Legacy Fund to serve as the middleman for this grant. This is a grant management group that Gates has used before for some of its global health initiatives. Arabella staff will be the ones to run what seems to be the official warm-up to the Race to the Top—they will, on behalf of Gates, review the grant proposals from the states, answer questions, make the awards, and execute contracts.

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