Yesterday, the Department of Education released the details for the third round of the Race to the Top competition. The first two rounds of Race to the Top (RttT) were created by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 to help spur systemic education reform in states. Though RttT did not receive any funding in the regular 2010 appropriations, this third round is made possible by $698 million in hard-won funding for the program from fiscal year 2011 appropriations. While the majority of that $698 million will go towards a separate $500 million early learning competition, $198 million will be available to the nine states that applied for the second round of the competition but did not win a grant.
This means that only Arizona, California, Colorado, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and South Carolina are even eligible for the funds. Essentially, the third round of the competition will allow each state to select certain aspects of their Round 2 RttT proposal to fund with this pot with a particular emphasis on activities to improve science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education.
However, each state is not automatically entitled to their share of the $198 million. Congress required that the funds be divided amongst the states based on their proportional share of the school-age population, and each state then must meet the following requirements:
1. Submit signatures of support from the governor, chief state school officer, and president of the state board of education;
2. Provide performance measures for any activities selected for funding with round three funds that were not specified in the round two application;
3. Be in compliance with Education Jobs Fund maintenance of effort requirements;
4. Be in compliance with an aspect of the State Fiscal Stabilization Fund Phase Two application relating to state longitudinal data systems;
5. Not have any legal barriers between linking student achievement data to teacher or principal effectiveness (commonly known as the student-teacher data firewall);
6. Be participating in an effort to improve the quality of state assessments through a consortium of states (like the consortiums currently funded by the Race to the Top Assessments competition).
Additionally, the law requires that each state “maintain, at a minimum, the conditions for reform described in its Race to the Top Phase 2 application.” This basically means that each state cannot backtrack on any of the reform efforts underway at the time of their round two applications like participation in the Common Core State Standards or plans to work with struggling schools.
These requirements already spell trouble for a couple of states.
South Carolina, which could very likely be uninterested in the funds to begin with, does not meet the Education Jobs Fund maintenance of effort provisions. California, which recently lost its State Longitudinal Data Systems grant, does not currently have the ability to link student data to teachers in its state data system – a requirement of the SFSF Phase 2 application. Other states could also be at risk if they have begun to undermine any reform efforts linked with their Race to the Top applications. But the Department should not be faulted for placing these restrictions on the funds – they could go a long way in ensuring that this third round of funding will go to the states most dedicated to implementing real reforms.
Overall, the greatest surprise hidden in the Department’s Race to the Top announcement was the focus on STEM education. Though the Department isn’t requiring that states use the third round of funding exclusively for STEM-focused efforts, each state will have to “allocate a meaningful share of its Phase 3 award to advance STEM education.” Though the announcement does not specify what a “meaningful share” constitutes, it appears that the Department has decided that investing these RttT funds in STEM education will give them the most bang for their reform buck.
UPDATE: A powerpoint presentation available from the Department of Education defines "meaningful share" as "sufficient funding for selected activities that are likely to result in measurable improvement in one or more STEM outcomes related to each activity. For example, a $2 million investment in expanding the number of teachers qualified to teach Advanced Placement (AP) Calculus would be considered meaningful if the State could demonstrate that this level of funding would lead to a significant percent increase in the number of students in high-poverty schools taking AP Calculus over a 3-year period."
Luckily for those nine states, each one received 100 percent of the possible 15 points available in the STEM competitive priority in their round two applications. This means each state theoretically has a detailed plan for STEM education already in their RttT proposals. Assumedly, each state will prioritize these efforts when they select parts of the proposals to support with the round three funds. But each state is also able to invest their share of the round three RttT funds in other areas of their application, if they have funds remaining. The efforts they select for the remaining funds will reveal each state’s reform priorities outside of the Department’s focus on STEM.
States interested in applying for the round three funds have until November 22nd to provide the initial assurances described above, a pretty short timeline. Once they are deemed eligible for the funds, they have until December 16th to submit a plan that identifies what aspects of their previous application they will be funding, a budget for these activities, and performance measures. Check back with Ed Money Watch for continued coverage of the competition.