As Kansas hacks away at public school funding, it is also in a fierce competition with other states for a slice of a $4.35 billion federal grant called “Race to the Top.”
“We feel like we have to make the attempt to get it,” said state Department of Education spokeswoman Karla Denny.
If all goes according to plan, Kansas officials say they believe the state could reap $175 million from the grant over a four-year period.
Race to the Top was part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act signed into law in February by President Barack Obama.
The competitive grant program is designed to encourage and reward states for education innovation and reform, improving student performance and better preparing young people for higher education and careers.
In announcing guidelines for states to apply for the grant, Education Secretary Arne Duncan described Race to the Top as a historic federal commitment of resources to public schools -- “the equivalent of education reform’s moon shot.”
States will be pressed to implement reforms aimed at four core issues: high academic standards, improved data gathering to monitor student achievement, rewarding and retaining top-notch educators, and improving low-performing schools.
Ironically, the contest for federal dollars comes at a time when many states, including Kansas, are reducing funding to public schools because of the recession’s impact on lowering tax revenues.
State funding to Kansas schools has been cut several times this year, decreasing base state aid from $4,443 per student to $4,012 per student, a nearly 10 percent cut.
Education officials argue that any further cuts in state funding will jeopardize federal monies to Kansas that have been used to prop up the budget.
Denny said if Kansas wins Race to the Top dollars, those funds can’t be used to backfill the loss of state funding. The funds have to be used specifically to address the program’s goals, she said.
Kansas officials say the state is well-positioned to receive the funding. The State Board of Education has hired Research & Training Associates Inc. of Overland Park for a maximum of $50,000 to assist in the Race to the Top grant application.
The first application is due to the U.S. education agency on Jan. 19 with awards to be announced in April. Between 15 and 20 states are expected to receive funding through that first round, officials said. Seven to 12 additional states are expected to receive a second round of funding, which will be announced in September.
Kansas will apply for the first phase of awards and re-apply for the second phase, if the state doesn’t make the initial cut.