Finally making good on promises to set a "very, very high bar" for Race to the Top, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has picked Delaware and Tennessee as Round 1 winners of the $4 billion education-reform competition, according to an official who was briefed on the winners this morning. (The Education Department has now confirmed this via Twitter.)
Since then, Duncan has made the announcement official, declaring: "We now have two states that will blaze the path for the future of education reform." He singled out Tennessee and Delaware for their strong stakeholder support, and for building a statewide, comprehensive plan that will affect "every single child" in those states.
"This isn't about funding nice pilot programs," he said during a conference call with reporters. "This is about taking student achievement to an entirely different level, and doing it at scale."
For more on why the two won, read this follow-up blog item here.
While both of these states were thought to have strong applications, what's most interesting is the two front-runners who didn't win: Florida and Louisiana. We don't know yet how much money each state won, but Delaware asked for $107 million (their top-line budget was $75 million) and Tennessee asked for $502 million (or twice the $250 million the education department had budgeted). Each of those requests was above the state-by-state nonbinding estimates the department had set.
UPDATE: Delaware will get about $100 million, and Tennessee will get about $500 million.
What we do know is that since the biggest states, such as Florida, New York, and Illinois, did not win in this round, there will be plenty of money left over for Round 2.
Less than a month ago, the department named 15 states plus the District of Columbia as finalists, representing one-third of all Race to the Top applications. That prompted criticism far and wide that Mr. Duncan's bar wasn't really that high. In all, 41 states (including D.C.) applied in Round 1. A second round starts now, with applications due June 1.
Finalists came to D.C. in the middle of this month to make a final, in-person pitch to the panel of peer reviewers. Now, we know who really shone (or at least who didn't tank) in that part of the application process.
The education department won't confirm the winners until today's official announcement at 1 p.m. And that means we'll be bringing you more analysis today, and throughout the week.
But big questions remain: How much money will the winning states get, which is an important question given that all but one state asked for more money than the department was estimating? Who just barely missed winning in Round 1? What did the final scores look like, and whose scores changed because of their in-person presentations? And just who were the secret peer reviewers?
We hope to bring you those answers soon.
UPDATE: When I told Alyson who the winners were, she pointed out that Tennessee and Delaware just happen to be the home states of two powerful, Republican lawmakers the Obama administration is trying to court in its bipartisan push to renew the Elementary and Secondary Education Act: Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Rep. Mike Castle, R-Del. Both are the ranking minority members in the subcommittees in their respective chambers dealing with K-12 policy, and both are considered leading moderate voices on education who have worked well with Democrats in the past. In fact, in an interview with the Washington Post's David Broder, Secretary Duncan singled out Alexander and Castle as the two Republicans who had offered ideas that were incorporated into the administration's ESEA blueprint.
Of course, the Obama administration has stressed repeatedly that politics would play absolutely no part in Race to the Top and set up a process intended to keep just these sort of considerations out. But the fact that Tennessee and Delaware apparently submitted such stellar applications might be a lucky break for the administration as its works to get GOP support for its ESEA ideas.