By Rachel Wells
If Illinois wants money for education reform from the federal Race to the Top program, it’s going to have to reapply. State officials learned today that only Tennessee and Delaware secured grants in the first phase of the competition.
Illinois’ bid ranked fifth – behind Florida and Georgia – among 41 phase one applicants.
The $4.35 billion competitive grant program seeks to help states improve standards and assessments, develop student growth data systems, reward and retain quality teachers and improve low-performing schools.
“Obviously we’re disappointed, but we certainly intend to look at the feedback that we’ll receive,” said Mary Fergus, spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Education. She said the department plans on reapplying by June 1 for phase two grants. The U.S. Department of Education estimates that $3.4 billion is still available.
Illinois originally requested $510 million, but a new rule for phase two applicants means the state can only ask for between $200 and $400 million. The limit is based on 2008 student population counts.
Referencing Illinois’ financial problems, a fragmented local district structure and “a catastrophic failure of the standards achievement test,” one of the educators who reviewed Illinois’ application said the state’s problems, “unless overcome, will severely hamper the applicant’s ability to sustain reforms.”
Reviewers also pointed to missing details in some aspects of Illinois’ reform plan.
“We looked at this process not just as a means to get federal funding but to draw a roadmap … for the next ten years, and we intend to continue with those efforts,” Fergus said.