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Race To The Top Continues
posted by: Alix | June 02, 2011, 02:39 PM   

On the heels of last fall's federal Race to the Top competitive grant program, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced last week that the program will resume this year with new funding. Comprised of $200 million earmarked for former runner-ups and $500 million for new early education state initiatives, the newly revived program has yielded both praise and criticism from policymakers and state education chiefs.

"Investing in early learning is one of the smartest things we can do as a nation," said Secretary Arne Duncan at a town hall meeting with US Human and Health Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to announce the new state-level grants. While some believe that government investment through competitive grants is more effective than blanket funding, others argue that the original program did not prove successful.

The criticism has mainly focused on the on the smaller pool of funding-the $200 million that will be made available to the nine runners-up from last year in grants of $10 million to $50 million that a state could use to implement some elements of its original Race to the Top proposal. South Carolina Education Superintendent Mick Zais declared that his state will not participate, despite pushback from school boards desperate for funding.

"The Race to the Top program expands the federal role in education by offering pieces of silver in exchange for strings attached to Washington," Superintendent Zais said in a statement. "The previous two rounds of Race to the Top were not competitive grant programs; they were top-down directives forcing states to adopt programs favored by Washington." Obviously some education leaders find the program counterproductive to their specific state education agendas.

The $200 million pot has also drawn controversy because four of the states have new governors, who had nothing to do with the original Race to the Top proposals: California, Colorado, Pennsylvania, and South Carolina. As a result these states will receive less, roughly $10 million each.

Despite the controversy, in deciding to set aside $200 million of the new money for the nine states that were finalists in last year's Race to the Top competitions, Secretary Duncan said there were strong applicants that he wanted to support but couldn't, due to federal funding constraints. "It is not a competition between them," Duncan explained. "Where states want to continue to drive reform, we want to invest. Where they've lost interest or lost courage we won't."

While the additional Race to the Top funds are coming at a critical time for states experiencing budget shortfalls, the bureaucratic strings may prove to be too costly for certain states and education leaders. Only time will tell which states will take advantage of the expanded funding.

What do you think of continuing Race to the Top grants?
Comment below.

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