Race to the Top is a $4.35 billion grant program created in the stimulus package. You can read the official description here, but the short version is that the states submit proposals to improve their education system to the federal government, and if the Feds approve, the states get a pot o' money with which to implement the plan. The idea isn't just to fund public schools, but to use the promise of federal money in a time of strapped state budgets to empower reformers. The program has garnered bipartisan praise, including a glowing column from David Brooks.
But it's hard to say no to states. A lot of people worried that the government wouldn't be very rigorous in its selection process, so there'd be little incentive for states to work for the funds. Think again. Out of 16 finalists, the administration only gave money to two of them (which, as Jay Matthews notes, will make the results easier to track). That means there's more than $3 billion left in the pot. And the efforts made by the winners are instructive: Tennessee's legislature, for instance, met in two special sessions and passed a law lifting the cap on charter schools. It also got endorsements from 93 percent of the state's teachers unions.
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