Ed secretary considers opening 'Race to the Top' to districts only

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan says a third round of federal grants known as Race to the Top could potentially be open only to school districts, and not states.

Race to the Top has so far been a competition among states. The Education Department used the lure of money as a way to prod states into making policy changes the Obama administration supports, including allowing charter schools and implementing more robust teacher evaluation systems. Minnesota lost out in the first round and didn't apply in the second.

Duncan previously has proposed opening future rounds to school districts, an idea that was part of President Barack Obama's 2010 budget proposal. But that proposal, which was never approved, would have included both states and districts. During Duncan's visit Friday to Minneapolis, he said he's considering only allowing districts to apply -- and leaving states out.

"If the money's more modest, which is probably more realistic, we think we can still have tremendous impact at the district level," said Duncan. "If you have less money, let's say you could only fund one or two states -- that's counter-intuitive. So, larger pot of money -- more flexibility; smaller pot -- we'll probably focus more directly on districts."

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton has said he wants Minnesota to apply if there's a third round of funding. In light of only districts possibly being eligible, he said Friday he would instruct his education department to help any district that applied.

The final decision, though, rests with Congress. President Obama's proposed budget last year included a third round of Race to the Top, but it was never funded. U.S. Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., opposes a third round.

"I have had some questions about the implementation [of Race to the Top] and weighting of certain issues," he said Friday, while standing next to Secretary Duncan at an event in Lakeville.

Kline's words carry more weight, now that Republicans control the U.S. House; he chairs the education committee that any such proposal would have to clear.

Duncan praised Kline repeatedly during his visit to Minnesota, adding Kline's opposition to a third round is no reason to give up the effort.

"There's a middle ground on everything."

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