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Lawmakers Want Rural Focus in District Race to Top

A bipartisan group of senators wants to make sure the Obama administration doesn't leave rural schools out in the cold when it crafts the next generation of the Race to the Top competition, which is aimed at districts and could be funded at as much as $417 million.

The seventeen lawmakers, lead by U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., worry that cash-strapped rural districts with tiny central office staffs will have trouble competing with big, urban school systems for the grants, since larger districts can devote more muscle and manpower to the application process. The department should provide a lot of technical support for rurals, they said in a letter outlining their concerns.

And the lawmakers want education service agencies (regional or district-based agencies that coordinate services, including career and technical education, pre-kindergarten, and professional development for groups of schools) to be able to be able to apply for the grants. They also want the department to allow consortia, or groups of districts, to apply together.

And they want the department to put these applications out soon, to give rurals "with less grant-writing capacity as much time as possible to develop thoughtful, high-quality applications."

Rural districts have complained bitterly that they haven't gotten a fair shake in the Obama administration's previous grant competitions, including the Investing in Innovation contest, which is intended to scale-up promising practices at the district level. (Check out this Rural School and Community Trust report, which questions whether the programs funded were "authentically rural.")

So who signed?

The list includes four GOP lawmakers: Sens. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, Susan Collins of Maine, Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, and Pat Roberts of Kansas.

And there are thirteen Democrats on board, including Murray: Sens. Mark Begich of Alaska, Michael Bennet of Colorado, Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico, Kent Conrad of North Dakota, Al Franken of Minnesota, Tim Johnson of South Dakota, Herb Kohl of Wisconsin, Carl Levin of Michigan, Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, Tom Udall of New Mexico.

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