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PA submits new Race to the Top application

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

Pennsylvania is one of 35 states and the District of Columbia that have submitted new Race to the Top applications in hopes of winning up to $400 million in federal aid.

The deadline for Round Two of the competition run by the Department of Education was Tuesday at 4:30 p.m. In the first round, only Delaware and Tennessee were awarded grants, getting $600 million between them. The original pot was $4.3 billion.

The competition is meant to encourage states to adopt reforms favored by the federal government, including charter school creation, tying teacher evaluation to student achievement, and turning around the lowest-performing schools.

Under the point system used by the Department’s raters, Pennsylvania came in seventh in the first round and is more optimistic about winning this time.

"We think we have a terrific opportunity to secure these funds – and put them to good use for Pennsylvania’s students,” Governor Rendell said in a Department of Education press release. “We think our round-two application is stronger and even more persuasive than the one we submitted for the first round.”

One of the weaknesses cited in Pennsylvania’s original application was that just 118 of the 501 school districts signed on. The state required buy-in from the superintendent, the school board, and the teachers’ union for a district to be included in the proposal.

This time, the state got letters from many more superintendents who said they endorsed the application and would work on the reforms in their districts.

Several other states enacted legislation in an effort to strengthen their applications between rounds one and two. New York, for instance, passed a law that would tie up to 40 percent of teacher evaluation to student achievement.

Pennsylvania did not pass any new laws. It tried to create an alternative certification system that would make it easier for working professionals to get teaching credentials while working with a mentor teacher in a program not unlike a medical residency. The bill passed the Senate, but was stalled in the House because legislation was tacked on to it involving the Education Empowerment Act that affects several low performing school districts.

If Pennsylvania wins the money, more than $100 million would come to Philadelphia, which has already embarked on a school turnaround project through Superintendent Arlene Ackerman’s Renaissance Schools initiative.

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