Kansas out of first round of federal school grants

Kansas schools won't receive any of the $166 million requested in the first round of a competitive federal grant that could have softened the blow of reduced state dollars to K-12 education.

The U.S. Department of Education released Thursday the 16 finalists that will vie for the first chunk of $4.35 billion in "Race to the Top" grants, and Kansas wasn't one of them.

State education officials said they plan to apply this summer for the second round, which should include $2 billion of the $4.35 billion.

Forty states and the District of Columbia turned in applications in January.

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said the grant money would be awarded to states willing "to dramatically reshape America's education system." He has asked states to look at teacher evaluations and pay, charter schools and starting the lowest-performing schools from scratch.

None of the 31 projects in the Kansas application was a drastic change, state school officials said. Any grant money would have been split between the Kansas State Department of Education and local school districts.

The application was an outline of what Kansas schools are already working toward, said Diane DeBacker, the state's interim commissioner of education.

"It is our strategic plan, whether money is attached to it or not," she said, adding that many of the projects are in their beginning stages.

The 16 finalists were the only ones to score more than 80 percent on a points-based application. They will go to Washington, D.C., to give presentations this month.

Finalists are: Colorado, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina and Tennessee.

Kansas educators should receive their application score and reviewer comments in early April, which DeBacker said they will use to strengthen their proposals. The second-round application is due June 1.

"We'll have up to six weeks to make those revisions," DeBacker said, adding that it will be less of a time crunch than in the first round, when the application was due shortly after the holidays.

"We will be just fine revising it."