Georgia, South Carolina lose out on school grants

States wait for round two of Race to the Top

Georgia and South Carolina lost out Monday in the first phase of federal Race to the Top funding, but it's not the end of the road for the states or two local school districts.

Richmond County schools Superintendent Dana Bedden, whose district was among 40 that joined Georgia's application for the grant, called Monday's announcement "just a bump in the road." He said he would again ask the county school board to consider applying with the state for a second, larger phase of Race to the Top funding to be awarded in the fall.

Bedden said the fact that Georgia ranked third in the first phase, just behind the two winners -- Delaware (which received $100 million) and Tennessee (which took $500 million) -- is a good sign.

"That's a strong showing," he said.

The $4.35 billion Race to the Top school reform initiative was unveiled last year by the Obama administration and partly focuses on turning around lowest- achieving schools. States are judged on their ideas for improvements.

The second funding phase has $3.4 billion available to states.

Richmond County officials aren't sure how much money they might receive if Georgia is approved, but in the first phase Georgia stood to gain between $200 million and $400 million over four years, with half being divvied up among the 40 individual school districts.

Aiken County school officials said in December that they could receive as much as $6 million if their state won a first-round grant.

Columbia County didn't apply.

South Carolina finished sixth out of the 16 finalists. King Laurence, Aiken County's federal programs director, was in Washington for the announcement and didn't respond to e-mails.

South Carolina will make a decision about entering the second round of competition for the grants within the next month, said Jim Foster, the state Education Department's spokesman. He said that if the state reapplies, the application would be redrafted and school districts would be asked again whether they will endorse participation.

Georgia Superintendent Kathy Cox said her state will work on perfecting its second-phase application, due June 1.

"It is unfortunate that Georgia was not named a winner for Race to the Top funds, but I know we are well positioned to be in contention for the next round of funding," she said in a statement.

Message sent

ATLANTA - Federal officials on Monday awarded Tennessee and Delaware $600 million in grants to improve failing schools, sending a message to other states hoping to win money: Revamp your education laws and get your districts and teachers to sign off.

Both states were lauded for their merit pay policies that link teacher pay to student performance and their charter school laws that are welcoming to the nontraditional education models.

But they also were winners because they had every school district approve their applications, which meant their reforms could touch every student rather than be limited to a handful of districts.

The states also got buy-in from nearly all of their teachers' unions and from every school district, a move that helped them stand out from the other 14 finalists for the unprecedented grant program.

The third- and fourth-place finishers - Georgia and Florida - both had opposition from some of their largest teachers groups.

- Associated Press

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