By ROBERT TOMSHO
Aiming to spark a new round of change in the nation's schools, President Obama is expected to tell states on Friday what they need to do to qualify for part of a $5 billion pool of new federal funding.
Created as part of the $100 billion stimulus fund targeted for education earlier this year, the so-called "race to the top fund" was designed to fuel innovation in the classroom. Of the related funding, $4.35 billion will be distributed to states and $650 million will be reserved for school districts and nonprofit groups.
Amid deep recession-related cuts in education budgets, many states are already scrambling to make policy changes to help them qualify for the grants. Arne Duncan, the U.S. Secretary of Education, said 46 states are cooperating on creating a common academic standard for their public schools and seven states have lifted limits on the number of charter schools that can operate within their boundaries.
"This is about challenging the status quo," he said in an interview Thursday, adding that the funds are also designed to bring "unprecedented resources to children at a time of desperate need."
The first round of grants from the fund is expected to be awarded early next year and only a few states are likely to land them, administration officials say.
According to the related regulations that the president is scheduled to unveil at the Department of Education on Friday, states will not be eligible for the funds at all if they have any legal or regulatory barrier preventing the use of student achievement data from being used to evaluate teachers and principals.
States will also be judged on how well they work with other states in developing common academic standards. Currently, under the federal No Child Left Behind law, states are free to set their own standards for what students should learn. They vary widely and, in many cases, scores on state achievement tests appear out of sync with national test results.
States applying for the grants will also asked to show that they are paying teachers based on performance, intervening faster to turn around their lowest-performing schools, authorizing more charter schools and closing achievement gaps such as those between white students and their black and Latino peers.
Mr. Duncan said states unwilling to make such changes won't get the new funds. "They will lose out," he said.
Gene Wilhoit, executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers, a professional group of top education officials in the states, said the regulations are pretty much in line with what educators have been expecting but added that they look "for pretty aggressive action on the part of the states" applying for the funds.
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