Georgia was among 10 winners of the federal Race to the Top competition's second round Tuesday, but South Carolina wasn't. That means Richmond County and not Aiken County schools will receive part of the reform money.
"That should help a lot," said Richmond County school board member Barbara Pulliam, but she noted she will first want to see the details of how the money would be used locally.
Earlier this year, the school boards in Richmond and Aiken counties agreed to join their states' first-round application for funds in the $4.35 billion Obama administration initiative. Both counties were automatically included in second-round application after Georgia and South Carolina missed the first-round cut. Columbia County didn't apply.
Richmond County board member Patsy Scott said she was "excited" about Georgia's selection and that her school system has started implementing some of the reforms the grant would fund.
Georgia ranked eighth Tuesday behind states including Massachusetts and New York. South Carolina scored just 9.8 points short, on a 500-point scale, of winning up to $175 million, finishing 14th among 19 finalists.
Aiken County Superintendent Beth Everitt said the thrust of Aiken's initiatives won't change despite South Carolina not being awarded the grants.
Still, "it would have been nice to have funding to enhance and fulfill initiatives we're already pursuing," she said.
Officials said it was still uncertain how much funding Richmond County will receive. Georgia could be awarded as much as $400 million over four years, but that exact figure also remains undetermined.
Half of what is granted to Georgia will go to the 26 districts that applied with the state.
Richmond County officials have said in the past that reforms tied to the money would focus on turning around its lowest-achieving schools, involving the option of four federal models, one that calls for retaining no more than 50 percent of a school's staff.
A similar plan has taken place at Laney High School this school year through a separate federal school improvement grant.
Despite some unrest resulting from that plan, board member Jack Padgett said that as long as the district's administration takes an active role in implementing the grant, the system should take the Race to the Top money.
"I think the problems we had with the other grant (at Laney), hopefully, have been ironed out," Padgett said, later adding, "What you had there was a school principal making a decision -- not necessarily a wrong decision, but the image of it was terrible. I think with (Race to the Top), we'll keep a much closer eye on it."
Padgett was referring to a team-building retreat Laney officials recently took to a Ritz Carlton at Lake Oconee as part of their school improvement grant.
Superintendent Frank Roberson said the district's implementation of the grant will be a priority for him.
"Any of those things that will allow us to enhance the skills and knowledge of Richmond County students will certainly claim my efforts and attention," he said.
Roberson, who started in his new job Monday, said he wants to examine Georgia's application to see what the grant requires of Richmond County before he can explain in detail how the district will benefit.
As for South Carolina, state Superintendent Jim Rex said in a news release that he was disappointed and surprised by Tuesday's list of winners, noting that the state had placed sixth in the first round "and significantly improved our proposal for Round 2. National education experts who handicapped the competition ... seemed to think South Carolina was a lock to win."
Despite the result, Rex remained optimistic about the state's efforts to improve student achievement.
He pointed out that South Carolina is part of two groups of states still competing for a share of a separate $350 million pot of Race to the Top money, to be awarded to the best proposals for developing new college- and career-ready assessments.
Georgia also is applying for this money. The U.S. Department of Education said Tuesday that it expects to announce winners in September.
As superintendent of Marlboro County school district in Bennettsville, S.C., Roberson was part of the team making South Carolina's case for receiving the grant money to federal reviewers in Washington earlier this month.
He said South Carolina officials should take heart in the fact that the state was twice a finalist for the money and that it only narrowly missed getting a grant the second time around.
"My wish would be that the state does not consider this a final 'no,' but to look at future opportunities," he said.
Tuesday's announcement marks the end of the second and final phase for Race to the Top in the current fiscal year.
President Obama has requested another $1.35 billion to pay for the grant competition in fiscal 2011. That request is part of ongoing budget negotiations in Congress.