The U.S. Department of Education on Tuesday invited districts nationwide to begin applying for the latest batch of high-profile federal school-reform grants.
Individual school districts will be able to seek about $120 million in “Race to the Top” federal funds. The four-year awards will range from $4 million to $30 million, depending on the population of students served. The Department of Education is expecting to make 15 to 25 awards.
“The Race to the Top-District competition is an opportunity for trailblazing districts across the country to implement models of personalized learning so that every child graduates college- and career-ready,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan in a statement.
The grants have attracted attention since their inception because they represented, in effect, a federal seal of approval on a state’s efforts to improve its schools. Critics, however, have faulted the program for promoting reforms they say are not supported by research and for providing too little funding for the measures to be fully realized.
Last year, the department awarded about $383 million to 16 districts, with grants ranging from $10 million to $40 million.
No local district won a grant last year. Local charter school operator Green Dot Public Schools was a finalist but fell short.
Los Angeles Unified entered the competition but didn’t get into the final round, largely because the teachers union refused to endorse the application as required.
The application required unions to commit to using data measuring student academic growth in teacher evaluations. At the application deadline, L.A. Unified and United Teachers Los Angeles were in negotiations over such a system and have since reached a tentative agreement on the issue.
UTLA President Warren Fletcher said in a statement that the union cannot say whether it would support a new application by the district until union officials review a proposal.
L.A. schools chief John Deasy could not be reached for comment.
Initially, only states were allowed to apply — with California failing to win an award largely because of intense opposition by teachers.
California districts were not shut out entirely last year. The state winners were Galt Joint Union Elementary School District, south of Sacramento; Lindsay Unified School District, east of Tulare; and New Haven Unified School District, south of Oakland. Galt and Lindsay each received $10 million; New Haven received $29.4 million.