Connecticut tries again for Race to the Top money
About two months after $600 million in education reform money went to two other states -- Delaware and Tennessee -- Connecticut has returned for the second round of competition for Race to the Top funds. This time, the state's application has been beefed up with reform legislation, passed since the first application was due in January, as well as more support from teachers unions and school districts.
"There's no guarantee, but we think we're going to be able to compete with the best," said Tom Murphy, spokesman for the Connecticut Department of Education. "This round our application is vastly improved, not only in content, but in its focus."
This round, Connecticut is asking for $175 million to fund improvements in how data is collected and used, how teachers are evaluated, provide an alternative route to certification for administrators and many other initiatives.
In the last round, about 125 local education authorities signed on to the application. This time, the state added an incentive payment of $100,000 or $140,000 to districts or other entities, like charter schools, which joined the application. This round the number of signatories rose to 163 out of 166, according to Murphy. Twice as many teachers' unions signed on this round, he said.
Darien stands to receive a total of $140,000 over four years, an amount determined by its incentive payment plus the result of a formula weighted for students in poverty.
The outcome of the first round wasn't a surprise; the state's application was criticized for containing blank charts, the lack of an explicit plan to incorporate student data into teacher evaluations, insufficient student data collection and limitations on charter schools, which Race to the Top seeks to encourage.
However, since that application was submitted, the General Assembly passed and Gov. M. Jodi Rell approved a comprehensive bill requiring, among many other things, districts to conduct two parent-teacher conferences per year, the expansion of the state's data system, a waiver of enrollment limits for successful charter schools, end-of-year examinations in five subjects, and including multiple indicators of student academic growth in teacher evaluations.
"This legislation is certainly the most significant piece of education reform legislation Connecticut has enacted in some time," said Alex Johnston, the chief executive officer of the advocacy group ConnCAN, and critic of the first round application.
There is no question, the state is now in a stronger position than it was during the first round, he said, citing the legislation as well as strong aspirational language within the application.
Connecticut is among 35 states and the District of Columbia to apply for the remaining $3.4 billion in Race to the Top funding.