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Colorado readies next R2T bid

Hoping the third time’s a charm, Colorado officials are getting ready to submit their latest application for federal Race to the Top funds, which state officials want to spend on development of the new educator evaluation system.

Department of Education executives expect to learn Wednesday how much money the state will eligible for in the third “consolation” round of R2T. Just six weeks ago the state filed an application for $60 million in funding from another, separate R2T program that’s focused on early learning.

While both applications would provide financial support for key state education initiatives, neither grant would solve the cost challenges around implementation of reforms enacted in the last three years.

This third round of R2T is kind of a consolation prize for states that failed to make the cut in the $3.3 billion second round last year, when Colorado lost its request for $175 million amidst questions about the quality of the judging. (Earlier, Colorado asked for $377 million in R2T’s first round, in which only two states won grants.)

There’s a lot less money on the table this time – only $200 million to be split among Arizona, California, Colorado, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and South Carolina. Colorado’s projected share is up to $12.5 million, although that could go higher if other states don’t apply or are found ineligible. There’s been speculation that California and South Carolina might not make meet eligibility rules, perhaps leaving more money for the remaining states.

Because there’s less money available, round three requires that states narrow the requests they made in round two but still meet all the various “assurances” about education reform laws and initiatives that were required earlier.

The first part of the round three application, detailing state compliance with the assurances, is due Tuesday. Colorado submitted that document last Thursday, according to Jill Hawley, chief of staff and strategy for education Commissioner Robert Hammond.

Last week the U.S. Department of Education issued some new requirements for the consolation round. The new rules require states to explain “how the selected reform effort will have a broader impact in supporting student learning and improving STEM education.” (STEM, of course, stands for science, technology, engineering and math.)

Hawley said those requirements were expected and don’t change the overall thrust of Colorado’s application.

The state hopes to use the funds to help pay for design of a state model evaluation system. The other major use of the money would be to support the work of “content collaboratives,” groups of educators and experts that will develop methods for assessing student mastery of new state content standards, especially in subjects not tested by the statewide assessments in reading, writing, math and science.

On the question of the federal STEM requirements, Hawley said Friday, “What we learned this week was kind of the direction we were headed anyway.”

Hammond said, “As part of the content collaborative work, we will include collaboratives specific to math and science to help develop model measures and model instructional tools to assist math and science teachers with implementing the new content standards as well as to support educator effectiveness in math and science.”

That second part of the round three application is due by Dec. 16. Hawley said a working draft of Colorado’s bid should be available the week of Dec. 5. Awards will be announced between Dec. 20 and the end of the year.

A different bid already in the hopper

Colorado also has applied for another, separate R2T program, the Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge. The 268-page application was filed Oct. 19.

The $500 million program will provide money for support of state early learning initiatives. Some 35 states have applied, and Colorado is eligible for $60 million.

Early learning, especially third-grade literacy, is a key initiative of the Hickelooper administration, and the application was prepared in the office of Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia, who also has been running a statewide listening tour to gather comment on early learning needs and strategies.

The application stresses these initiatives:

  • Improving and streamlining state oversight of early childhood education
  • Developing an upgraded quality rating system for programs
  • Integrating and consolidating early childhood development guidelines
  • Improving evaluations and interventions for young children with high needs
  • Providing improved training of early childhood workers
  • Expanded school readiness assessments of children entering kindergarten

Bill for reform remains to be paid

Since passage of the Colorado Achievement Plan for Kids in 2008 there have been questions about how the state will pay for full implementation of reform efforts such as new content standards, new tests and new evaluation systems for principals and teachers.

Hawley noted that the $12.5 million R2T round three grant wil have to be split 50-50 between the state and school districts and will be spread out across four years.

“It turns out to be a million a year [for the state], and you spend that fairly quickly,” she said. “It’s not a lot of money for any of the states.”

But, Hawley said every little bit helps: “There’s no state funding for this right now.”

A recent study done for the state by Augenblick, Palaich and Associates estimates the costs of implementing CAP4K at $384 million (see story).

Another Augenblick study done for the State Council for Educator Effectiveness estimated a cost of $42.4 million to get evaluation systems up and running statewide.

Gov. John Hickenlooper has proposed $7.7 million of state funding in 2012-13 to help pay costs of developing the evaluation system.

A key part of CAP4K, development of new statewide tests for launch in 2014, also is in question because Hickenlooper didn’t include the $25.9 million cost of developing the exams in his budget request. Not spending the money next year could delay launch of new tests and perhaps force the state to consider using multi-state tests now being developed by two groups (see story).

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