And the Winners Are …

The rubrics have been analyzed, the numbers have been tallied, and it looks like we finally have our Phase One Race to the Top winners.  While the announcement goes official later this afternoon, the early reports this morning seem to confirm that Delaware and Tennessee are the only states that will walk away with Phase One RttT checks.  Michele McNeil over at Politics K-12 has some of the initial breakdown here

For the record, both Delaware and Tennessee had good applications.  But these selections are going to surprise a lot of people, particularly as we wait for the wonks to truly dissect the 500-point scorecards for each state.  Eduflack has long thought that Tennessee had one of the best applications in the pool, but I thought it was just a notch behind Florida and Louisiana (in fairness, I actually thought Illinois had the best app I read, but knew that couldn’t win for a host of reasons), and it would be tough to award three grants to three states in the same region.  So I long believed Tennessee would be a slam dunk for Phase Two.

As for Delaware, it had a lot of positives going for it, perhaps the greatest of which was it was a small state that we expect can move quickly to enact wholesale school reform across the entire state.  It is important to note, however, that Delaware was one of only two of the 16 finalists NOT to have financial support from the Gates Foundation.  So message sent.

So what does it all mean?  First and foremost, the U.S. Department of Education is sending a clear message — “game on!”  Of the $4 billion available in RttT, there is still now $3.725 billion remaining in the pot.  That’s a lot of money for Phase Two, and will require a great deal of scrambling from states over the next two months.  Those who failed to make the cut have been working for the last month on their new apps.  Now the remaining 14 finalists have to ramp back up their proposal teams to get back on the horse. 

ED also selected two states that will be difficult for other states to replicate.  There are few, if any, states that have the political climate, education changes, and philanthropic dollars coming in as Tennessee does.  And when you look at states in the Volunteer State’s price range, almost none can take the Tennessee application, run a search and replace, and submit it as their own.

The same is true in Delaware, where the size and demographics make it unique.  Couple in charter schools being run through the state office and other factors, and few will copy.  After all, it is not like Rhode Island is going to now crib from Delaware.

This afternoon, I expect officials from ED to send us some clear messages.  “We have always told you this would be highly competitive.”  “Only the best of the best applications will win.”  “No one should expect they are entitled.”  “Politics played no official role here.”  “We have now set the bar higher for every Phase Two applicant.”  And so on and so on.

And what about the other front runners?  Eduflack still expected both Florida and Louisiana to win a RttT grant.  If I was a betting man (and clearly I should stay away from the racetracks these days), I would say Florida didn’t win because of the weak support from the state’s teachers’ unions.  And the cynic in me says some may not have wanted Florida to win $700 million before the Republican U.S. Senate primary is completed.  In Louisiana, the opposition from state school boards likely hurt, as did the fact the state has so much happening, but is still trying to assemble the proof points to demonstrate what is working.

The big question now is whether ED will spend the full $4 billion by September 30 or not.  Even if you award every other Phase One winner a grant in Phase Two, there will still be money remaining in the pot.  So will it all go out, or will it be reconstituted before the end of the budget year?

Regardless, congrats to both Delaware and Tennessee.  You put together strong applications and have taken some real steps toward education improvement.  Now all eyes will be on you.  And, fair or not, we all expect to see results within a year. 

UPDATE — ED has now made it official, before noon EDT.  One important note in the official announcement.  ED states that Delaware will win $100 million, and Tennessee walks away with $500 million.  That means that the award ranges, released by ED back in November, may now be removed.  Delaware was supposed to only receive up to $75 million, so it gets a 33 percent bump.  And Tennessee doubling its $250 million supposed cap.  Does that mean we may see a $1 billion winner in Phase Two?

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