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Race to Top States Still Have Lots of Money to Spend

With states well into their final year of Race to the Top implementation, the 12 winners still have a lot of money to spend, according to the latest financial reports by the U.S. Department of Education.

The state with the largest share of its award left? New York, with 59 percent of its $700 million still sitting in the bank as of Nov. 30, according to the latest federal spending report.

Meanwhile, Delaware (one of the two states that got a jump start by winning in the first round) has just 31 percent left. 

Combined, the 12 Race to the Top states have $1.8 billion of their $4 billion in winnings left, or about 46 percent. The Obama administration's signature education-improvement effort was designed—for the most part—to be a four-year program. Awards were made in 2010.

It's important to note that the large balances aren't necessarily a bad thing. For one, it's possible this money has already been spent on paper (such as a contract has been signed) but hasn't been drawn down. Secondly, sometimes there are delays in when the money is spent and when that shows up on the federal ledger. And thirdly, Race to the Top states spent the first couple years of their grants doing intense planning, and left a lot of the actual implementation to the final couple of years.

However, the unspent money is one indicator of larger delays that have plagued Race to the Top states, and a contributing factor to the Education Department's decision to allow winning states, on a case-by-case basis, to get an additional year of time to implement some of their programs. When they announced this extension earlier this year, federal officials said they wanted to give states time to thoughtfully implement their plans so they didn't feel the need to blow through their money. But department officials also said they don't want states sitting on their money, either. With these "no-cost extensions," states will have until July 1, 2015 to spend their money (versus summer 2014).

Federal officials aren't granting wholesale extensions; the extra time is for small components of states' winning plans. States including Florida, Georgia, and Tennessee are approved to spend some of their money during the 2014-15 school year, mostly on state-level oversight of the program. 

Here's how states' Race to the Top remaining balances stacked up as of Nov. 30:


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