35 states, D.C. take second shot at Race to the Top; $3.4 billion left for education reform

Thirty-five states and the District of Columbia submitted applications Tuesday for the second round of the U.S. Department of Education's Race to the Top competition to boost student achievement and school reform.

The program, part of President Barack Obama's economic stimulus law, will provide $4.35 billion in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds to states that are implementing innovative reforms — such as tying student performance to teacher evaluations — to turn around failing schools and close the achievement gap.

Tennessee and Delaware were awarded $600 million in the first round. Another $350 million has been set aside for a separate competition to improve the quality of assessments.

Nearly ever state in the country has applied for a slice of the money between both rounds of the competition. Many passed significant reform laws that allowed for the development of more charter schools and tightened teacher accountability and tenure requirements in order to increase their chances of winning a grant.

Nine that submitted applications last time did not reapply by Tuesday's deadline.

Some, including Minnesota, said they did not receive enough support from teacher unions. Others were wary of passing reform laws and adopting common academic standards across states.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan acknowledged that the application process took "hard work and political courage."

"Every state that applied now has a blueprint for raising educational quality across America," Duncan said.

Finalists for the remaining $3.4 billion will be selected over the summer and later make presentations to review panels in D.C. The winners will be announced in September.

The Department of Education said 10 to 15 states could win grants.

Among those enacting reforms in time for the second round was Colorado, which passed a new law that evaluates teachers based on student achievement and can strip tenure from low performing instructors. The state finished 14th out of 16 finalists in the first round of the competition.

Officials there were optimistic the reforms help their application.

"Recent bipartisan approval of a law to improve educator effectiveness and the announcement that Colorado will receive a major federal grant to improve its education data systems gives us reason to believe a number of key pieces are falling into place," Bob Schaffer, chairman of the Colorado State Board of Education said.

In other states, union leaders resistant to supporting first round applications came out in support for the second bid. In Florida, a majority signed on to the state's new application, after unions in only five districts supported the first application, which linked teacher pay to student test scores. In the state's second application, unions are given more authority in ironing out details for teacher pay provisions.

Florida finished fourth in the first round, narrowly missing the cutoff.

"I am proud of the efforts of all education stakeholders who helped to make our Phase 2 application package one that will truly reform our education system like never before," Florida Gov. Charlie Crist said. "The work of our students, parents, teachers, administrators and legislators to be united in providing a quality education is evident in this application, and I feel strongly this will help us win the race."