CA gets two more shots at RTTT, but state may not apply

Already a two-time loser in the federal Race to the Top competition, California education officials learned Wednesday that they've been given two new chances to win a share of the reform grant money.

The question is whether California will apply.

A new $500 million round of competitive grant money will be made available to states under the race format but with specific targets around early learning, the U.S. Department of Education announced.

In addition, the nine states shutout in the first two rounds of Race to the Top competition - a list that includes California - have been given the opportunity to compete for another $200 million based on their prior applications.

Federal officials said they hope to have applications available to the states for the third full round of Race to the Top by the end of this summer. Award of money to the winners could be out by the end of the year.

Applications for the $200 million mini-race are expected to be available by early fall. As proposed, grants would range from $10 million to $50 million depending on the size of the state applying and the final number of awards the department decides to give.

With California losing out twice in the Obama administration's signature education program, there would be some sense that a third time would be a charm - maybe a fourth, too.

But because final say on California's participation rests almost exclusively with Gov. Jerry Brown, the state's application to either of the new funding options is far from certain.

Recall that Brown, as state Attorney General in August, 2009 - wrote a blistering comment letter to the federal education department over the Race to the Top rules, calling them a top down,' one-size fits all' and command and control' approach to education programming.

It is also important to note that state school chief Tom Torlakson opposed the state's first application to the federal race.

While things can change once candidates take office, no one at the California Department of Education was able to comment Wednesday about what the state's plans were.

The combined $700 million in federal funds being provided under the race umbrella is money that won passage in April as part of the mid-year budget agreement between President Obama and Congressional Republicans.

Just as with prior race rules, winners of the $200 million race will be judged in the context of the administration's four core reforms: raising academic standards, building cradle to career data systems, investing in great teachers and leaders, and turning around persistently low-performing schools."

The $500 million program is looking to reward states "that create comprehensive plans to transform early learning systems with better coordination, clearer learning standards, and meaningful workforce development," according to a department news release.

"States applying for challenge grants will be encouraged to increase access to quality early learning programs for low income and disadvantaged children, design integrated and transparent systems that align their early care and education programs, bolster training and support for the early learning workforce, create robust evaluation systems to document and share effective practices and successful programs, and help parents make informed decisions about care for their children," the department said.

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