Putting Education Reform To The Test

Five Questions About Florida’s Next Lap in “Race To The Top”

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President Barack Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan talk about "Race to the Top" during a stop at a Virginia elementary school last year.

Lawmakers gave a delayed go-ahead this week to compete in the latest round of federal Race to the Top education grants — this time for early childhood education projects. Here’s what to know about the latest version of the federal program to spur education innovation.

1. Another Race to the Top grant?

The federal education department announced in May they would award a $500 million pot of grants to improve education programs for children who have yet to enter kindergarten.The agency is specifically seeking programs which target children in low-income families.

Federal officials believe research proves children who enter school better prepared will be more likely to graduate high school and college. The program also emphasizes workforce development and the ability to measure progress.

2. Didn’t Florida already win a Race to the Top grant?

Yes, Florida was one of 10 states that split a $3.4 billion pool of money last year. Florida’s is using most of its $700 million to design new teacher evaluations. The teachers who rate highest on those new evaluations will earn additional money.

3. What would Florida do with the money?

Teacher training and upgrading state data networks, according to Cynthia Lorenzo, director of the Florida Agency for Workforce Innovation, which oversees the state’s voluntary early childhood education programs.

State lawmakers have previously debate whether to require pre-K teachers have a bachelor’s degree. If Florida wins the Race to the Top grant, much of the money will be used to develop early childhood instructors.

State officials said they don’t know how many teachers they would be able to train since they are still working on the application’s final details.

Another chunk of the money would go towards upgrading state computer networks to better share data.

4. What took so long for the state to apply?

Two reasons: The grant requires that Florida accept money included in the federal health care law for a child-abuse prevention program. Lawmakers have opposed accepting any part of the health care law, which the state is challenging in court.

Lorenzo said state officials also were worried accepting the money might commit Florida to permanently funding programs. Florida’s Race to the Top application will only include one-time projects, she said, and there are no long-term strings.

With no commitments, Lorenzo said, Gov. Rick Scott believed the state should apply and asked lawmakers to accept the child-abuse prevention money. A Legislative panel gave preliminary approval to the money Wednesday.

5. What’s next?

The Agency for Workforce Innovation has five weeks to submit the application for an October 19 deadline. The federal agency will announce winners in December.

At least 36 states have said they intend to compete for the grants, which will be in awards of $50 million to $100 million.


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