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Race to Top Consolation Prize: $200M for STEM

UPDATED

The U.S. Department of Education has now spelled out what the nine runner-up finalists from last year's Race to the Top competition must do to get a piece of the $200 million consolation prize.

[UPDATE, 11/17, 12:20 p.m.] This new money, which makes for a third round of the Obama administration's signature education-reform initiative, must be spent on a piece of a state's second-round Race to the Top proposal that seeks to advance the state's comprehensive reform agenda, according to the department. Importantly, though, a state must make the case that whatever it chooses will also improve STEM education. STEM, or science, technology, engineering, and math, has become an important priority for the Obama administration, and most recently, was a big beneficiary of the latest round of Investing in Innovation grants. For this latest round of Race to the Top, grant money doesn't necessarily have to be spent on STEM programs, it's just that a state must identify an area to focus on that will also benefit STEM (such as raising standards in all subjects).

For states to qualify, according to the rules the department put out today, they must meet nine requirements or "assurances". For one thing, they must be in compliance with maintenance-of-effort requirements in the Education Jobs Fund, which already means South Carolina (if it had even wanted the money) wouldn't be eligible.

The state also has to be in compliance with certain requirements regarding its data system under the State Fiscal Stabilization Fund, a one-time pot of federal stimulus aid. (Could California be in trouble for this?)

There must also be no firewall between student and individual teacher data. Also, a state has to maintain any laws and rules that it used to beef up its original round-two Race to the Top application around teacher evaluations, school turnarounds, expanding charter schools, and adopting common standards and assessments. So no backtracking allowed.

In addition, the application must be signed by the governor, the state schools' chief, and the president of the state's board of education.

The funding comes from the fiscal 2011 budget deal Congress reached earlier this year. A separate $500 million pot of money was set aside for an early-learning version of Race to the Top.

Awards will be based on the size of a state's student population, and will range from $12 million to $49 million. If every one of last year's finalists applied, which isn't likely, this is how the awards would be broken down: $12.25 million for Colorado, Louisiana, South Carolina, and Kentucky; $17.5 million for Arizona; $28 million for Illinois, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey; and $49 million for California.

That's not a lot of money for so many strings attached, but, for states that are plowing ahead with the education-reform agenda they spelled out in Race to the Top, it might be easy money.

The application process will be in two steps. States have until Nov. 22 to file proof that they meet all of those assurances. If the Education Department agrees, then states have until Dec. 16 to make their pitches for STEM projects.

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