Colorado eligible for between $60 million and $175 million in Race to the Top funds

Colorado stands to gain between $60 and $175 million if it wins a Race to the Top grant, according to finalized federal guidelines released today.

It’s not only the money that makes the contest high stakes for Colorado. If the state wins the federal dollars, it will be a feather in the cap of Dwight Jones, Commissioner of Education and it will be a major success for Governor Bill Ritter, who will be fully in the throes of his re-election campaign by the time the federal grants are announced. 

Ritter has made education reform a priority in his administration, and he has put special emphasis on the federal RTT grant—going so far as to put Lt. Gov. Barbara O’Brien in charge of the process. A recent Education Week article had this to say about how much Colorado appears to want to win the money:

If the competition for a slice of $4 billion in federal Race to the Top Fund money were a school class, Colorado would be one of the kids sitting up front, furiously taking notes, and leaping up to answer every one of the teacher’s questions.

The $4.3 billion Race to the Top competition, which has been billed as U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s greatest tool for reform, will grant stimulus funds to states that develop comprehensive reform strategies in four areas:  standards and assessments, data systems, teacher hiring, firing and evaluation, and turning around struggling schools. Duncan has made it clear that the money will not be divided equally among the states, but will instead be given to those states that are outstanding.

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However, Duncan has warned states to develop proposed budgets based on their size. And while Colorado’s suggested range of $60 to $175 million may be disappointing in relation to the $350-700 million suggested for California, Texas, New York, Florida—it’s a lot more than the $20-75 million suggested for states like New Mexico, Nebraska, Vermont and Idaho.

The New York Times is reporting that the administration is receiving praise for its final rules, even from some of those who disliked the initial guidelines.

For example, after complaining that charter schools aren’t the only innovations available to school districts, North Carolina Gov. Bev Perdue, a Democrat, was pleased to see that the new guidelines encouraged states to talk about other schools that think outside the box.

Dennis Van Roekel, president of the National Education Association union, who had criticized the decision to evaluate teachers and principals largely based on students’ standardized test scores, was also pleased that the final guidelines included other methods of measuring teacher effectiveness:

The final rules, he said, “put more emphasis on student growth, teacher practice and improving instruction. So I’m really pleased that they listened.”

Tomorrow, Colorado plans to hold its final Race to the Top meeting to report on the state’s progress in applying for the federal grant money.

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