Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Illinois loses out on Race to the Top funds

By Jamey Dunn

Illinois has lost its bid for a potential $400 million in federal education funding.

The U.S. Department of Education announced the 10 winners in the final round of the competitive grant program Race to the Top, and Illinois was not on the list. The District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, and Rhode Island will split $3.4 billion.

Illinois went on to compete in the second round of the program after failing to win any funding in the first phase. In that round, Illinois ranked fifth out of 41 applicants, but only the top two states, Tennessee and Delaware, received grants.

State Superintendent Chris Koch said that Illinois made improvements to its application for phase two based on the phase one review process. He said one of the biggest hurdles the state faced was getting districts and teachers' unions to sign on. “It is hard for Illinois, given the number of districts that we have.” (For more on the phase two application process, see the upcoming September issue of Illinois Issues.)

Koch said the competition did spur some important changes in Illinois, such as legislation to increase the number of charter schools in the state, revamp teacher assessments and update administrator training programs. “We do feel the state of Illinois is better for having gone though this process,” he said.

When the Department of Education releases Illinois' reviewed application tomorrow, the State Board of Education will get a better idea of why its bid did not win.

Koch said the state education budget was not planned around getting the grant, and he still hopes to implement many of the ideas included in the state’s Race to the Top application. But some programs may be scaled back and will take much longer to roll out, since there are few education dollars to go around.

However, there is hope for Illinois that another phase of federal grants could be on the horizon.

"We had many more competitive applications than money to fund them in this round,” U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said in a written release. “We're very hopeful there will be a Phase Three of Race to the Top and have requested $1.35 billion in next year's budget. In the meantime, we will partner with each and every state that applied to help them find ways to carry out the bold reforms they've proposed in their applications.”

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