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What Happens in Districts When Race to Top Funds Run Out?

Last week, voters in Seaford, Del., roundly defeated a proposal that would have replenished money the school district is losing when federal Race to the Top funding dries up after this school year.

The referendum was defeated by a 4-to-1 margin, leaving the district with a $1.2 million gap in the 2014-15 fiscal year, according to the district

This is going to be an emerging issue for many districts in the dozen states that won the original $4 billion education-redesign competition in 2010. The 2013-14 school year, for the most part, is the last year for funding. And it's important to remember that while states have gotten the bulk of attention when it comes to implementation of Race to the Top, half of the money—or a whopping $2 billion—went directly to participating districts to bring the programs to fruition. Now, that money is set to run out.

In Seaford, the $3.4 million from Race to the Top paid for initiatives like the International Baccalaureate program, common-core implementation, and the hiring of four new staff members. The tax increase would have provided funding to continue those programs. And now that the funding has been rejected, school district leaders say they will have to figure out what to cut—whether its Race to the Top-related programs or others.

"We prioritized our needs, and we were sensitive to our difficult economic times. This is a maintenance of effort request. We are not seeking to expand programs at this time," then-superintendent Shawn Joseph said last month before the vote.   "All of our schools are improving faster than was the case prior to the infusion of Race to the Top funds."

For Race to the Top states and participating districts, the fiscal cliff is rapidly approaching. Districts that anticipated, and planned for, the end of Race to the Top will be in fine shape. But those that want to continue costly programs will have to find another way to pay for them. Voters often don't have a lot of appetite for tax increases. And cuts to other programs might not be popular either. So will Race to the Top prove to be just a temporary shot-in-the-arm?

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