Nearly 900 local educational agencies (LEAs) – 893, to be exact – recently notified the Department of Education of their intent to apply for a piece of the $383 million available in the Race to the Top-District (RTT-D) competition. Until applications are in, it is impossible to judge how early education fares in the competition. But some of the districts on the list are those that include only elementary schools, suggesting that the program’s application, which specifies preK-3rd as a possible area of focus, also holds appeal to those working in the early grades.
Districts from 48 states, plus Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia, submitted applications, according to the department’s summary and list of applicants. (North Dakota and Wyoming were the only holdouts.) In Texas, 62 of over a thousand districts applied. Texas is one of the states that refused on principle to participate in earlier Race to the Top competitions. The interest shown in these 62 districts could be taken as an indication that the Department’s efforts to provide opportunities to districts in such states may pay off.
The dozen largest districts (by enrollment) in the country all stated that they plan to apply, including New York City Public Schools, Los Angeles Unified School District, and Chicago Public Schools. Among the other applicants were some of the least-stable school districts in the country. Kansas City Public Schools in Missouri, a district that lost its accreditation last year, signaled that it will apply for two grants (though LEAs cannot sign on to more than one application, the intents to apply are for grants of two sizes, suggesting perhaps the district hasn’t decided yet what its plan will look like). And the embattled Chester Upland School District, a “financially distressed” district in Pennsylvania that nearly shut down last year when it ran out of money, will also apply for one.
A quick read of the list shows that at least 40 of the potential applicants are charter school districts, and another two dozen are non-profit organizations and foundations likely working with school districts on their applications. And ten of the LEAs planning to apply stated that they would be looking for at least two grants, though they will ultimately be eligible to submit only one application.
The RTT-D eligibility criteria say that applicants must serve at least 2,000 students, and have no less than 40 percent of students eligible for the free and reduced-price lunch program. By our count, fewer than 3,000 traditional public school districts (excluding charters, for which data are not collected by the Federal Education Budget Project) meet those requirements on their own.
However, the Department provided another avenue for smaller districts. A consortium of ten or more school districts is exempt from the 2,000 student minimum as long as 75 percent of the students in each district will participate in the program (consortia can include any number of school districts if they have more than 2,000 students total). Of the 893 districts that signaled intent, more than 250 will apply as the lead of a consortium. As a result, it is impossible to know how many districts will actually participate in the RTT-D competition at this point.
Additionally, to even be considered for the competition, districts and consortia will have to meet several more requirements. Those include implementing teacher, principal, and superintendent evaluation systems by the 2015 school year (earlier proposals to include a school board evaluation system were scrubbed in the final notice); utilizing college- and career-ready (eg. Common Core) standards or graduation requirements; and building out district-wide data systems that match teachers and students from pre-K through high school and higher education. These will not be easy tasks, especially given that states with Race to the Top grants have struggled to meet similargoals, and it’s unclear whether districts might face even more challenges, particularly if they are located in states that are not supportive of such reforms.
These districts’ plans remain to be seen – applications are due at the end of October – but this list does suggest that districts across the country and in nearly every state are interested in the program. Check back with Early Ed Watch as the RTT-D competition progresses for more updates and analysis.
This post was adapted for an analysis for our sister blog, Ed Money Watch.