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Nearly $500 million From Race to Top To Fund Early Learning, District Ideas

Get ready for more Race to the Top.

Armed with another $490 million, the U.S. Department of Education is poised to award new Race to the Top grants to districts for general education-improvement ideas, and to states for more early-learning initiatives.

About $120 million of the federal fiscal 2013 funds will go to a second round of the Race to the Top district competition, which awarded $383 million to 16 districts in 2012 for proposals that focused on personalized learning.

The rest of the money, or about $370 million, will go to early-learning initiatives, including to six states that only received 50 percent of their awards the first time around: California, Colorado, Illinois, New Mexico, Oregon, and Wisconsin. The remaining funds will go for new states that pitch early-learning improvement ideas. (Preschool is top priority for President Obama.)

But there are some things that aren't clear, including exactly how much will go for early learning in new states. Also unknown is whether the department will conduct an entirely new Race to the Top district competition, or make awards to districts that came close, but did not win, last year.

Consider that in previous Race to the Top competitions, whether it be the general state contest or the early-learning challenge, when the department had extra money it awarded money in a follow-up bridesmaids round. Plus, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has made a point of saying there were many more strong district applications than there was money.

And so this could all be good news for the handful of districts that narrowly missed winning last year: Jefferson City Public Schools in Missouri, Mapleton in Colorado, Reynoldsburg City Schools in Ohio, Vancouver Public Schools in Washington, and the Kentucky Valley Educational Cooperative were the next five non-winning districts with the highest scores.

Regardless, any future competitions would be subject to some tweaks, based on proposed regulations that also came out today. For one, the maximum award would be $30 million, down from $40 million. The minimum award would also be reduced from $5 million to $4 million.

In addition, the department wants to add another priority so that districts would have to address the behavioral, social, and emotional needs of students and families in their proposals. This is in addition to devising plans that personalize teaching and learning.

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