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Mar 4, 2010 4:22 PM by Rob Kirkpatrick

LA Makes Short List In Nationwide Education Honors

Baton Rouge, La. - Louisiana is among the finalists for the first round of the federal $4.35 billion Race to the Top (R2T) grant program. The list of states, released by the U.S. Department of Education (USDOE) today, identifies 16 finalists from the initial pool of 41 applicants. The competitive R2T grant is designed to encourage states to pursue education reform initiatives. The next step for Louisiana and the other finalists is an interview that will take place in Washington during the week of March 15. Finalists will be asked to clarify the information presented in their applications for grant reviewers. State leaders say they are very pleased to be among the finalists.

Governor Bobby Jindal said, "Louisiana is honored to have been selected as a finalist in the national Race to the Top competition. The announcement today confirm s that we are on the right track in making our educational system truly world-class. We've said all along that we will pursue the initiatives outlined in Race to the Top regardless, but this support will allow us to scale up reforms and more quickly make the transition. We are excited to be a part of the Race to the Top network of finalists, as we implement value-added teacher evaluations, turn around failing schools, and grow more high-quality charter schools to serve our communities and our children."

The news was received with great enthusiasm, as education leaders across Louisiana consider the potential funding that could be dedicated to systematic reform initiatives and programs.

"We are extremely pleased to be among those states that will have another opportunity to express our commitment to this application and the bold reforms we've outlined in our plan," State Superintendent of Education Paul Pastorek said. "Louisiana is a lready pursuing an aggressive reform agenda, and the prospect of securing additional resources to scale up these initiatives and pursue proven programs and strategies is of great consequence to our state, our communities, our schools and our children. We are very grateful for the collaboration and commitment of the education community statewide, and we recognize that the strength of our application dwells in the commitment of individuals and groups who contributed to and supported Louisiana's application. Regardless of whether Louisiana is ultimately selected to receive a Race to the Top grant, our state has benefitted significantly from the dialogue and planning that occurred as a result of this process."

"We are delighted Louisiana was selected in the initial group of states who will have a chance to secure funding in first round of Race to the Top," Board of Elementary and Secondary Education President Keith Guice said. "This funding has the potential to provide our districts and schools with millions of dollars in additional funding that they can use in their efforts to raise student achievement."

Louisiana, which has been identified as a strong contender due to reforms already underway, is asking the federal government for $314 million in its R2T application. A highlight of Louisiana's application is the unparalleled allegiance of more than 200 organizations around the state and country that pledged to support and contribute to Louisiana's R2T initiative over the four-year cycle of the grant. In addition to the commitment of participating local districts and charter schools, the state's application included the signatures of Governor Bobby Jindal, Attorney General James "Buddy" Caldwell, and Board of Elementary and Secondary Education President Keith Guice, as well as letters of support from more than 20 legislators, including House Speaker Jim Tucker and Senate President Joel Chaisson.

Letters of endorsement from the Louisiana Federation of Teachers (LFT), the Associated Professional Educators of Louisiana (A+PEL), the Louisiana Association of Principals (LAP), national education groups, higher education institutions, business organizations and other key stakeholders were also submitted in the appendix of the document.

"Louisiana's successful application won't be a surprise to anyone who understands the time and effort invested in this process," Louisiana Federation of Teachers President Steve Monahan said. "The fact that Louisiana made the short list should make it clear to all that it is time to fully engage in a dialogue about the reforms contained in our Race to the Top application. We are quickly moving to a point where this is no longer theoretical or abstract - it will have an impact on the way our schools operate. Local Federation affiliates are preparing to engage their school systems with plans that are specific to the needs of the individual school districts. The work to be done must occur in an arena of mutual respect and with a strong commitment to do what is good for children, is effective, and is fair to educators and staff."

Race to the Top was authorized through the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). The $4.35 billion allocation is the single largest pool of discretionary funding dedicated to education reform in the history of the U.S. The grant will be awarded in two phases. The first group of awards will be announced in April, while the second group of recipient states will be announced in September.

Grant awards will be based on the selection criteria outlined in the federal R2T proposal. Even though participation at the state and local levels is voluntary, and only a handful of states are expected to receive the grants, the District of Columbia and all but 10 states submitted applications to the USDOE in January.

Louisiana's application, Our Children Can't Wait: Louisiana's Blueprint for Education Reform, is centered on ensuring that across the state, every student is taught by an effective teacher, and every teacher is supported by an effective leader. Based on current enrollment numbers for the 28 districts and 56 charter schools that signed on as Participating Local Educational Agencies (LEAs), Louisiana's R2T program could directly impact nearly half of the state's total student population, 51 percent of the state's total free and reduced-price meal population and nearly 58 percent of Louisiana's total minority student population. And more than 72 percent of the student population enrolled in these districts and schools participates in the federal free and reduced-meal program, which is six points higher than the state average. The percentage of students participating in the federal free and reduced-price meal programs is commonly used to measure poverty in a specific population.

If Louisiana is successful at securing a portion of the federal grant, 50 percent of the funding received by the state will be allocated to Participating LEAs, while the remaining 50 percent will be allocated to statewide initiatives to benefit all districts and schools. Local education leaders say the additional resources will allow districts to advance their progress since the funding must be utilized not to fill budget gaps, but to implement significant change.

"We're ecstatic about Louisiana being named a finalist," said Sabine Parish Superintendent Dorman Jackson. "When we consider that more than one-third of Louisiana's students are still not performing at grade level and that our dropout rate is the highest in the country, we cannot simply be satisfied with maintaining our current status. We must push forward with a sense of urgency, and these additional resources, targeted at meaningful reform, would provide local education agencies with the tools and funding necessary to support dramatic improvement."

Other states selected as finalists include: Colorado, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina and Tennessee.

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