Nine school districts to apply for Race to the Top federal money

Having watched the state strike out in its three attempts to land federal Race to the Top money to reform schools in Connecticut, officials at eight urban districts and the state’s technical high school system have decided to try their luck in the fourth round.

“We look forward to submitting a strong application that speaks to our successes and articulates a vision for the future of the district,” said Hartford Superintendent Christina M. Kishimoto, saying her district’s recent reforms and improvements make the district “very competitive” for federal funding.

The U.S. Department of Education announced Friday afternoon that officials from Bridgeport, Meriden, New Britain, New Haven, Norwalk, Stamford and Waterbury also have informed them they will be applying by the Oct. 30 deadline. Collectively, these districts are asking the federal government for between $170 million and $270 million to fund their initiatives.

The federal government intends to award $383 million to support local reform efforts for the upcoming year. Nearly 900 districts across the country are expected to apply, but only 15 to 25 of them will receive funds. Federal regulations require that this money be awarded to districts with plans to enhance the relationships between students and their teachers through personalized learning initiatives.

In a statement announcing the long list of districts vying for the federal money, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said, “The best ideas come from leaders at the local level. … We hope to build on this nationwide momentum by funding districts that have innovative plans to transform the learning environment, a clear vision for reform and a track record of success.”

Connecticut applied in all three previous state rounds of Race to the Top money. The first two applications led to new state laws that, among other things, increased high school graduation requirements. Those reforms were eventually delayed because of the costs associated with implementation.

In the third round, the state pitched adding more high-quality preschool seats and grading preschool programs for their quality. That application was also unsuccessful, but lawmakers managed to find the funding for both initiatives.

Districts will find out by Jan. 1 if they have been chosen to receive funding.