Colorado loses first-round Race to the Top education stimulus cash

Colorado failed to win millions of first-round federal Race to the Top dollars, which may not be a bad thing in the long run, according to some analysts, because Colorado will now have the opportunity to improve its proposal and will win money in the second round with which to fund a stronger program of innovations.

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Gov. Bill Ritter stood with Lt. Governor Barbara Obrien  and Education Commissioner Dwight Jones Monday to announce the disappointing news. Delaware and Tennessee were the only two states awarded first-round funding. The portion of the $4.3 billion program each state is awarded is based on student population. Delaware will receive $100 million and Tennessee $500 million to bolster their recession-ravished school budgets.

The federal funds would have been used to support targeted programs and would not have affected cuts to education currently being discussed in the General Assembly.

Ritter said that although he had yet to see the scoring process the U.S. Department of Education used to make the decision, he said he was told that scores dropped off steeply after the top two. He said he was proud that Colorado was the only western state among the 15 finalists. He said his administration had yet to decide whether it was in the best interest of the state to try for the second-round money. He lacked details necessary to make an immediate decision.

The second phase of the grant program includes stricter caps on reward amounts. Ritter said it might not be worth it for Colorado to subject itself to the federal stipulations tied to the money.

“The limit for us is $170 million …We have to see if the money is there in a meaningful way for Colorado to make the necessary concessions to be funded by federal government.”

Ritter said while Colorado led the nation on content standards and growth, the Department of Education doubled the value of teacher leadership and effectiveness in making its assessments.

“We have to be concerned about how reform works in Colorado…we have to make sure that the things we look to do make a difference to Colorado Students…then we may add those to our application.”

Last week, the American Enterprise Institute released the latest edition of its “Education Stimulus Watch” report. The Institute thought it best that the Department of Education be strict in its award judging.

“Unless the department is convinced that a state application is perfect, every single submission should be returned to sender with a detailed list of needed improvements. The second round should be the ultimate contest where all interested states fight to win a share of the funding in a one-time-only competition.”

The report criticized Colorado leaders for “deciding to weaken provisions related to teacher evaluations, tenure, pay, and dismissals in order to get more stakeholder support.”

Despite the loss, Barbara O’Brien said she was committed to the Race to the Top program.

“We still feel very proud of the application we submitted. I think we have to pay attention to our to colleagues but I still say we have the right reform plan for Colorado.”

Ritter said he was committed to pushing reform regardless of how Colorado fares in the Race to the Top program.

“With respect to kids, we can’t afford to wait. We need to move on a reform agenda. We hope to get funding in the second phase but if we don’t we are going to have to look at how we pay for that reform agenda and not leave kids behind.”

Jones agreed that the effort put into drawing up the state’s proposal would not be wasted.

“We remain committed to developing and pursuing the ideas embedded within the proposal. It is hard work, but work worth doing. Colorado’s students deserve nothing less.”

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Joseph Boven

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