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High Schools to Compete for $100 Million in New Race to the Top-Style Contest


Today, the Obama administration will announce details of a $100 million competition for high schools that better prepare students for college and high-tech careers, U.S. Department of Education officials confirmed this morning.

First reported in the Wall Street Journal, the competition is shaping up to be a mix between the federal Race to the Top and Investing in Innovation programs, and will be funded and run through the Department of Labor. Between 25 and 40 grants will be awarded next year for high schools that team up with colleges and employers. The grants will range in size from $2 million to $7 million. Just as with the i3 competition, winners will have to secure private matching funds of at least 25 percent to get their grant.

Awards are expected to be made in early 2014 so schools can implement their winning plans during the 2014-15 school year. And importantly, the Labor Department will make the rules and administer the program—not the Education Department.

Applicants must include, at a minimum, a local education agency, a local workforce investment system entity, an employer, and an institution of higher education. (That is a lot of collaboration!) 

To put it in perspective, these are not huge grants. The 2013 i3 grants—designed to find and scale up the most innovative education practices—ranged from $3 million to $20 million. Then again, there was no easy money to find for the high school competition, which is why the administration had to go scrounging around for it. (And why the funds are coming through the Labor Department.)

Funding the high school program at just $100 million and using Labor Department funds (specifically revenue from the H-1B visa program) is a bit of a workaround on the administration's part. The program was originally proposed at $300 million and was supposed to be run by the Education Department. But even the Senate appropriations committee, which is controlled by Democrats, couldn't find the money this year. And the House appropriations committee never officially released its spending bill for this fiscal year. 

It's unclear how the idea will go over with lawmakers, who would not need to give approval for the program, since it will be distributed using Labor Department discretionary funds. At a hearing today, Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., the chairman of the House education committee, said he was "discouraged" by the administration's move, which many see as an end-run around Congress.

President Obama first touted this high school contest in his State of the Union speech earlier this year.

Expect more details later today.

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