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Colorado districts signal R2T interest

A collection of 17 school districts, boards of cooperative educational services and one charter school have formally indicated their interest in applying for a new federal Race to the Top program that’s targeted at the local level, not at states.

Larger districts in the group include Aurora, Boulder Valley, Denver, Poudre and Pueblo City. Also on the list are Eagle County, Fountain-Fort Carson, Harrison and Mapleton.

The $400 million program carries individual four-year grants of $5 million to $40 million, depending on district size and other factors. A central goal of the program is to help districts create personalized learning experiences tailored to individual students.

The U.S. Department of Education set a Thursday deadline for local education agencies to file intent-to-apply forms. The deadline for the full 117-page application is Oct. 30. However, districts that indicated interest aren’t required to finish the application process. And a district can still participate even if it didn’t file an intent-to-apply form.

The intent forms “will be used by the department primarily to develop an efficient process for reviewing grant applications,” according to the department.

The eligibility rules are complicated and include district size; percentage of low-income students, whether a district has teacher, principal and superintendent evaluation systems in place; commitment to college and career readiness for all students, and strength of data systems, among other things.

Winning districts will need to have 2,000 participating students, although groups of 10 or more districts – such as a board of cooperative educational services or BOCES – that serve fewer than 2,000 are eligible if at least 75 percent of all students in the group participate. Award sizes will depend on number of students served.

Here’s the list of Colorado entities that have indicated interest, including what DOE calls “expected” budget requests. The DOE did not screen interested districts for their potential eligibility.

  • Aurora, $20-30 million
  • Boulder Valley, $10-$20 million
  • Brush, $5-10 million
  • Center, $10-$20 million
  • Denver, $30-$40 million
  • Eagle, $10-$20 million
  • Fountain-Fort Carson, $10-$20 million
  • Harrison, $5-$10 million
  • Mapleton, $0-$20 million
  • Northeast Colorado BOCES (12 districts), $5-$10 million
  • Pinnacle Charter School (Thornton and Federal Heights), $5-$10 million
  • Poudre, $5-$10 million
  • Pueblo City, $20-$30 million
  • San Juan BOCES (nine districts), $10-$20 million
  • San Luis Valley BOCES (14 districts, including Center), $$5-$10 million)
  • South Central BOCES (14 districts, including Pueblo City), $10-$20 million
  • Vilas, $5-$10 million

The department received indications of interest from 893 potential applicants nationwide. Officials say there will be 15 to 25 winners when the awards are announced in December.

Race to the Top has morphed into a collection of programs since the first state-level competition was announced in 2009. Colorado applied but finished out of the money in two rounds for state grants. Colorado also lost a third R2T competition focused on early childhood.

Late last year, Colorado did win $17.9 million in a “consolation round” of funding for states that almost made the cut in a previous round. The state is using its half of that money to help develop the educator evaluation system and support the work of “content collaboratives,” groups of educators and experts that are developing methods for assessing student mastery of new state content standards, especially in subjects not tested by the statewide assessments. The other half of the R2T grants went to participating school districts to spend on their own work in the same areas.

The $4.3 billion R2T effort was launched as part of President Obama’s economic stimulus package and is seen as the administration’s hallmark education initiative.

Some $330 million of R2T funds went to two groups that are developing multi-state tests to assess students on the Common Core Standards in English and math. Colorado has adopted those standards and recently joined one of the groups, the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, as a governing member.

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