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Christie Administration Divvies Up Its Race to the Top Winnings

Education budget demonstrates that $38 million can buy a lot of school reform.

Now that New Jersey has finally won some federal Race to the Top money, how exactly does it plan to spend its long-sought check for $37,848,434 (more or less).

In the application approved by the federal government last month, the Christie administration spelled out how where every dollar would go, down to the fringe benefits for staff and the $1,000 pricetag per computer.

The grant was awarded in the third round of the competition, after the state lost two previous bids, including one on a technicality last summer that ultimately cost former education commissioner Bret Schundler his job. Only states that bid before could try again, and ultimately seven won some money, although a lot less than awarded in previous rounds. They also could only apply the grant to programs they had proposed in previous applications.

The final figures remain fluid, especially given that the funding is spread over four years. But the budget is illustrative of the costs that go into the kinds of reforms that the administration has long hoped to spur with the federal funds, albeit at a larger scale, things like teacher evaluation reform, model curricula, and charter school oversight.

The largest chunk of the money -- approximately $19 million -- will go to the districts themselves. To qualify, they must currently receive federal Title I funds for low-income students and be willing to participate in the reforms.

The exact conditions to that have yet to be determined, but they would apply to training staff or building local capacity, said Andrew Smarick, the state's deputy education commissioner. The state also plans to build an Instructional Improvement System, an online platform providing lesson plans in line with the new Common Core Standards, as well as spot assessments to see if students understand the material.

Pricetag: $6.2 million, which covers everything from upfront consultant fees at $50,000 a pop to annual system operating costs of $924,000 (about $7 per child).

Some $3.88 million, according to the application, will go to staffing up the administration's ongoing teacher evaluation pilot. That includes hiring three implementation managers at $95,000 a year to help districts put the models in place. Some of the money will also go to launch a principal evaluation pilot.

There also will be project managers and a communications manager in Trenton to "ensure the overall success of both pilots and the statewide rollout of each," the application read. Another $5.66 million will enable the state to develop a model curriculum that it will supply to districts, and maybe require in some low-performing schools. The figure includes hiring consultants at $500 per day and an estimated $35,000 per subject per grade.

Some money will come back to teachers, too, with the state offering $500 awards to teachers for contributing taped model lessons of their own.

And the last large component will go to additional charter school staffing to help build the state's long-criticized ability to review and monitor the innovative schools.

According to the budget, $1 million over three years will hire three charter evaluation managers at $92,000 each. Another $100,000 a year will go to unnamed partnership organizations to help in the process.

Deputy education commissioner Smarick said the $38 million may be a far cry from the $400 million the state initially sought and lost last year in the first two rounds of the Race to the Top competition

"But especially in the teacher and principal evaluations and the curriculum work, this will really help launch and advance things we couldn't have done otherwise," he said.

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