The applications for Race To The Top — the Department of Education’s initiative that funds various school districts’ efforts to implement educational reforms that will lead to better teaching and learning — have been finalized, and school districts nationwide can now vie for the more than $400 million in funding for the participating schools.
The program sets a high bar to fund those districts that have a track record of success, clear vision for reform and innovative plans to transform learning environments and accelerate student achievement.
The program began in 2009, one of several enacted as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The 2012 final program invites applications from districts or groups of districts that serve at least 2,000 students with 40 percent or more qualifying for free or reduced-price lunch.
“Race to the Top helped bring about groundbreaking education reforms in states across the country. Building off that success, we’re now going to help support reform at the local level with the new district competition,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. “We want to help schools become engines of innovation through personalized learning so that every child in America can receive the world-class public education they deserve. The Race to the Top-District competition will help us meet that goal.”
More than 45 states have either participated in the past, or are currently enrolled in the program, and the Department of Education received early feedback from roughly 475 interested districts. Once awarded the funds, each district can choose which areas to focus on, as long as it relates to the four core reform areas and the plan is approved by the district superintendent, the school board president and the president of the main teacher’s union.
These four-year awards will range from $5 million to $40 million, depending on the population of students served through the plan. The Department is expecting to make 15–25 awards.
Pennsylvania has long been an active participant, with Governor Tom Corbett late last year announcing that the commonwealth received $41.3 million for its portion of the Race To The Top funding.
“I know, from my time spent as a teacher and with my own two children, that a one-size-fits-all approach to education does not create a successful learning environment,” Corbett said when the funding was announced. “Our students need quality options that fit their academic abilities and their aspirations for the future. We must have educators who are prepared and capable of meeting the needs of our diverse student population.
That grant was used for the statewide implementation of a new teacher evaluation method and will also provide the necessary means to develop a new principal evaluation, which is planned to be piloted during the 2012–13 school year.
Pennsylvania Department of Education Secretary Ron Tomalis further defined how those monies would be used.
“The focus of our grant application is to improve public education for every student,” Tomalis said. “The funds awarded to Pennsylvania will support the work already being done by Governor Corbett and the Department to ensure that, regardless of ZIP code or socioeconomic status, every child receives an education that provides them with the opportunity to be successful.
“As a result of the Race to the Top Grant award, funds will be allocated to increase transparency at Pennsylvania’s public schools,” Tomalis continued. “Ultimately, the goal is to provide parents with the information necessary to make informed decisions regarding their child’s educational future.”