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More Details Emerge About Race to the Top 2.0

There were many, many losers in the fiscal year 2011 budget deal now working its way through Congress, but Race to the Top was a winner, getting $700 million for a one-year extension of the economic-stimulus program, which was to expire. That's less than half the $1.35 billion the administration initially wanted, but given how few programs came out on top, Race to the Top fans should be pretty pleased.

There's a priority for early learning included in this new version of Race to the Top, which sounded to me like a way to help finance some of the activities that would have been paid for out of the Early Learning Challenge Fund, a $350 million proposal to help states improve their early childhood programs. The proposal is part of President Obama's fiscal 2012 budget proposal, but didn't make the cut in the final fiscal 2011 bill.

The bill isn't clear on just how much of the money would go to new state grants and how much would go to early-learning grants. That means it would be up to the Education Department. From my reading of the bill, it sounds like the department could also combine the competitions if it so chose.

Under the original language that created Race to the Top, states were required to give half of their award to districts. But the bill would allow the department to waive that requirement for the new early-learning grants.

And before you get all excited about a new state K-12 competition, it's also important to note that under the bill, the department could just pick new winners from among the states that had applied for the second round of Race to the Top, but lost out. Apparently, that's because the department thinks it got some very high-quality applications in the most recent round of the competition that weren't funded, Senate aides said.

So does that mean that folks in New Jersey are cranking up Bon Jovi and dancing a happy dance right now? The state narrowly missed winning in Round Two of Race to the Top, and it would have gotten a grant of anywhere from $200 million to $400 million, at least under the rules of the last competition.

The next runner-up, Arizona, would have gotten $150 million to $250 million. So, depending on the size of the grants and how much would go to early learning, there may not be much left for Louisiana and Colorado, the "why-were-we-shut-out" darlings of Race to the Top. That, of course, assumes the department just goes by last year's scores and doesn't have a new competition or use new funding cut-offs for grants.

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