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Race to the Top 3.0: Administration Tries, Tries (Tries) Again

Hoping for a $38 million grant, the education department very quietly files an application.

Not giving up its try for money out of the federal program, the Christie administration on Friday filed one more time for Race to the Top funds, this time focusing on a few smaller -- but no less controversial -- initiatives.

New Jersey met Friday's deadline to file final details of its application for up to $38 million grant from Race to the Top Phase 3, proposing that it would put the money to help bolster its capacity for monitoring charter schools and "turning around" failing district ones, among other efforts.

It is the third round of a competition aimed to bring statewide and systemwide education reforms that saw New Jersey lose badly once and miss out on a technicality the second time, ultimately costing an education commissioner his job.

That doesn't count New Jersey's loss announced Friday for separate Race to the Top funds specifically for early childhood education.

Unlike the last filings, the state kept a low profile on the new application this time and would not release the document yesterday or comment further. A department spokesman said it was waiting for initial questions back from the federal government before putting out the final application.

But in a letter to districts last week, deputy commissioner Andrew Smarick said the application would focus on six areas. All of them were required to have been part of previous applications.

  • Transition to Common Core State Standards and new assessments;
  • Online support to districts in development of curriculum and assessments;
  • Frameworks for teacher evaluation;
  • Support for districts in turnaround efforts;
  • Improvement of charter school authorizing; and
  • Expansion of statewide capacity for all of the above.

Half of the money would go to the state and the other half to participating districts, he said.

"This grant provides an excellent opportunity for New Jersey to accelerate key reforms already underway and to build even stronger partnerships with [local districts]," Smarick said in the letter.

And given its track record, the good news for the administration is the grant process has just seven states applying. It also will not have states competing against each other like the previous ones, Smarick said, but could see all seven states win awards.

"This is not a competition," Smarick wrote. "Should our proposal be deemed acceptable, the state will receive funding."

The federal government is to announce the grants by the end of this month.

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