Although New York was named a Race to the Top grant finalist this month by the U.S. Department of Education, how the department scored the application and the amount of funding that may be coming New York's way are still unknown.
State applications for the program's phase I funding were due to the federal government on Jan.19 with awards expected to be announced by the end of April. New York was one of 40 states that submitted an application for phase I. New York could potentially receive a maximum of $700 million in funding.
"Everyone that applied for Race to the Top is charting a path for education reform in America," said U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan in a prepared statement. "I salute all of the applicants for their hard work. And I encourage non-finalists to reapply for phase II."
The department said panels consisting of five peer reviewers evaluated each application using a 500-point system. All 16 finalists scored above 400 points. Peer reviewers were trained on the application evaluation process in Washington before assessments began.
The majority of points per application were awarded for states' educational achievement and for their efforts to support effective teachers and faculty. Major points were awarded for developing, adopting and implementing common standards and assessments throughout the state.
According to the Associated Press, 14 finalists, including New York, received grants of up to $250,000 from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to hire consultants to help construct their applications. Delaware and South Carolina were the only two finalists that did not use Gates Foundation funding.
The U.S. Department of Education will post the scores and reviewers' comments for each application online in the future. Duncan has said there is not a set number of finalists to win phase I funding, but this is a competition and he expects "very few" states will be getting the money in round one.
"We are setting a high bar, and we anticipate very few winners in phase I. But this isn't just about the money. It's about collaboration among all stakeholders, building a shared agenda, and challenging ourselves to improve the way our students learn," said Duncan.
Finalists will travel to Washington this month to give presentations to the panels to justify their applications and show how any reforms proposed in the applications would be carried out with the federal funds.
To the dismay of Gov. David A. Paterson, New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and various lawmakers, the Legislature failed to pass education reform legislation prior to the Race to the Top application deadline, to lift or increase the state's cap on charter schools and mandate the use of student standardized testing scores to evaluate teachers.
They feared New York had hurt its chances of winning phase I funding because President Barack Obama's administration had indicated its preference for states not to hinder the growth of charter schools.
Assemblyman Sam Hoyt, D-Buffalo, who introduced an education reform bill, has said he hopes his fellow lawmakers would learn from the experience and pass reform prior to the June 1 when phase II funding applications are due.
Assemblyman Michael Benjamin, D-Bronx, also commented, saying failure to pass charter reform may have lost New York valuable points and kept the state out of the top 10.
According to the U.S. Education Department's point rubric, 45 out of the 500 points are awarded for "ensuring successful conditions for high-performing charter schools and other innovations and demonstrating other significant reform conditions." However, the number of charter schools a state should have is not specifically mentioned.
The news that New York was chosen as a finalist elated those who worked to receive the funding. State Education Commissioner David Steiner said he was pleased the state was picked.
"The Regents and I commend our many partners in school districts across the state for their support in developing New York's application," said Steiner. "Together, we developed a strong and competitive proposal, one that will advance the bold reforms needed to turn around failing schools, close the achievement gap and enable all of our children to succeed."
Assembly Education Committee Chairwoman Suzi Oppenheimer, D-Mamaroneck, who also introduced a charter school reform bill, said she was "gratified" that New York was named a finalist.
"New York has long been a model of innovation and creativity in education, and I fully expected our application to be competitive," said Oppenhiemer.
If not picked a winner for phase I funding in April, New York lawmakers are expected to take up charter school reform again.
According to the U.S. Department of Education, applications will be returned with scores and comments to the states that are not awarded funding in round one to better prepare them for the second round.
The other finalists were Colorado, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina and Tennessee.