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Obama's Competitive Grants Are Waning. Can Districts Keep the Work Going?

Six years ago, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan got the biggest welcome to Washington gift any education secretary has ever received—$100 billion to spend on education, including $5 billion for brand-new competitive grants, and $3 billion for school turnarounds, through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, better known as the stimulus.

The money jumpstarted the Obama administration's competitive grant strategy, including Investing in Innovation, Race the Top, Race to the Top Early Learning, Race to the Top for districts, Race to the Top Assessment Grants, and preschool development grants. 

Now those programs have either been cut or are on the chopping block. Even if they manage to survive another budget season, they may not be around when the Obama administration closes up shop.

So what about the districts and states that have gotten this federal money? What have they been able to accomplish? And will they be able to continue the work when the money is gone?

I went to two districts in North Carolina—Guilford County and Iredell-Statesville—to find out. Between them, the two districts have Race to the Top districts grants, four SIG grants, an i3 grant, a Transition to Teaching grant, and a Teacher Incentive Fund grant. Plus, the Tarheel State won a Race to the Top state grant and has benefitted from a Race to the Top assessment grant. In fact, the feds have poured more than $100 million into this pair of districts, all told.

So what have they done with all that largesse?  

A lot! Both districts have been able to start 1-to-1 programs using laptops or tablets. Guilford has seen its turnaround schools make faster academic gains. Iredell-Statesville has seen a sharp uptick in graduation rates after going big with Response to Intervention.

And Guilford was able to invest part its Race to the Top for districts funding into a new feature for its Parent Academy—24-hour homework help, both for parents and students. The most popular on-demand tutoring offered through the program so far? Advanced high school math classes.

Both districts are worried about sustaining these efforts though, once the money goes away. Read all about it here.

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