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California a finalist for share of $3.4-billion federal Race to the Top education grants

July 27, 2010 | 10:21 am

California is among the finalists for a share of $3.4 billion in competitive and controversial federal education grants, along with 17 other states and the District of Columbia, federal and state sources have confirmed.

The official announcement on the high-profile Race to the Top grants is scheduled for late Tuesday morning in Washington, D.C.

California applied for up to $700 million in the one-time funding as both a reform strategy and to offset part of an ongoing state budget crisis. These reform measures strive to link teacher evaluations to student performance, place the most effective educators in struggling schools, and better use data to improve teaching.

The California plan also embraces the federal emphasis on replacing staff at “failing” schools and converting some to independently run charter schools, most of which are non-union.

California joined 34 other states and the District of Columbia last month in competing a second time for the grants. In that first try, California fell well short of becoming a finalist. The grants eventually went to just two states, Delaware and Tennessee.

The second-round winners are likely to be announced in about a month. Win or lose, California remains committed to many of the reforms, which legislators put into law to strengthen the state’s initial and unsuccessful application.

Critics of the grant program, including many leaders of teacher unions, have opposed linking teacher evaluations to student test scores as well as other initiatives they said are unproven and likely to prove costly after the one-time grant runs out.

-- Howard Blume