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Can RI win ‘race to the top?’

May 28, 2010

State lawmakers and education officials say they’re confident Rhode Island will win up to $75 million in round two of the federal “Race to the Top” competition. But just how good are the state’s chances?

Rhode Island finished eighth in round one out of 41 applicants. Only the top two states, Delaware and Tennessee, received funding, but 10 to 15 states are expected to get funding in round two.

Education reform advocates and state officials have used the lure of a one-time cash infusion to raise the state cap on charter schools and introduce legislation for a statewide school funding formula, two items they believe will bolster Rhode Island’s chances in round two. They’ve also gotten support from more teachers’ unions this time, including one statewide teachers’ union and 11 out of 36 local union presidents. All but two school districts have also signed on.

Both winners of the first round of competition had nearly universal union buy-in, and Federal Education Secretary Arne Duncan praised them for submitting plans that would reach every student in the state. However, there is some question about whether this is a make it or break it issue. A recent article in the New York Times Magazine suggests than an aggressive reform agenda is more important than getting every adult on board.

State officials have revised Rhode Island’s application based on stakeholder input and reviewer comments from round one. They’ve also had time to look at other state’s proposals, though State Education Commissioner Deborah Gist acknowledges that her counterparts in other states are likely to have done the same.

At this point, the answer is in the hands of federal reviewers. We’ll find out how Rhode Island’s proposal measures up in late August or early September, when they announce the winners of round two.

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