States Unable to Secure Race to the Top Funds Scramble to Implement Plans

More than a dozen states that did not win Race to the Top funds are planning to implement their ambitious education reform proposals without federal funding, Education Week reports.

According to a report released last week by the Center on Education Policy, States' Progress in Implementing the Recovery Act Education Reforms (28 pages, PDF), at least sixteen states that failed to secure Race to the Top funds are forging ahead with their plans, though they acknowledge it will take longer to accomplish their goals. Still others are asking whether they can — or want to — fulfill commitments made as part of the federal competition.

Illinois, which sought a $400 million grant from Race to the Top, has turned to private donors to back its education reform plans. To date, the state has secured $1 million each from the Chicago Community Trust and Teach for America to improve college preparation programs for teachers and school leaders and $50,000 from the Chicago-based McCormick Foundation to help pay for a kindergarten-readiness assessment. "The money helps get things started," said Robin Steans, executive director at Advance Illinois, an education advocacy group that helped develop the state's Race to the Top application. "But you cannot support a kindergarten-readiness program statewide on private dollars [alone]."

Colorado, which applied for a $175 million grant, admits that implementing its plan without federal funding will be difficult. Indeed, recently elected Democratic governor John Hickenlooper proposed cutting $375 million earmarked for K-12 education as part of his $7.2 billion budget. However, state education officials remain determined to implement the plan, much of which has become law. To cover its costs, the state is looking to collaborate with other states and is seeking support from private donors. To date, the state has secured $1.9 million from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and other foundations.

According to Nina Lopez, a special assistant to Colorado Commissioner of Education Robert Hammond, the states that failed to secure Race to the Top funds did not just miss out on federal dollars; they also missed a chance to attend technical assistance workshops with federal officials that are designed to help winning states carry out their plans. "I'm sorry there aren't better mechanisms to aggregate what we're doing," said Lopez, "because we're all doing a lot of the same things."

Michele McNeil. "Losing States in Race to Top Scramble to Meet Promises." Education Week 02/22/2011.