Missouri doesn't qualify for federal education grants

Thursday, March 4, 2010 | 8:21 p.m. CST

JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri found out Thursday it lost in the opening round of a federal competition for education grants.

The U.S. Department of Education said Missouri's application for nearly $750 million under the "Race to the Top" program is not among the finalists. But Missouri Education Commissioner Chris Nicastro said the state plans to submit a revised application by the next deadline on June 1.

The federal government has offered around $4.3 billion in grants for its "Race to the Top" program to help states revamp everything from teacher training and pay to the subjects taught in class.

Missouri, in its application, said it's seeking to use a more aggressive approach to dealing with failing schools — one that would involve the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education being more hands-on. The department has typically allowed its 523 public school districts to have more local control.

Fifteen states and the District of Columbia were selected as "Race to the Top" finalists, including Missouri's neighbors Illinois, Kentucky and Tennessee. The first round of awards are to be announced in April.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said most of the finalists will not be named as winners.

"We said from the beginning that we'd set a very high bar for this competition," he said.

Duncan said most of the grant money — around $2.35 billion — will go to states that apply for the second round of judging.

"We absolutely hope and expect Missouri to come around and compete in Round 2," Duncan said.

The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education plans to move forward by looking at the plans of states that were successful. Spokesman Jim Morris said the states who are not finalists won't get feedback on why their plans were not approved until April 1.

Morris said the department is inviting stakeholders to participate in discussions about changes to Missouri's application.

Nicastro has previously said the department wants to align their policy to fit the application, whether they eventually receive funds or not.

"We're going to move forward with those plans as best we can, keeping in mind the economic situation in the short term," Morris said.

Lawmakers did not seem surprised that Missouri did not receive first-round approval.

Senate Education Committee chairman Sen. David Pearce, R-Warrensburg, said the process was aggressive and the application had to be put together quickly to meet the Jan. 19 deadline, which may have contributed to its failure. He said it was largely created without input from legislators.

If the state resubmits an application, Pearce said this time will be different.

"This will give us an opportunity to have more time to reach out to more people and get this application in," he said.

The education committee's vice chairman, Sen. Scott Rupp, R-Wentzville, wants the Legislature to have a greater say in the state's application. He said he had objected to many of the provisions in the original application, including that the grant money would in large part bypass the Legislature.

He has sponsored a bill that would place the grant money in a single fund and then let a joint House and Senate education committee sign off on the expenditures.

"If we don't agree with it, and if we don't agree with the strings attached, we can send the money back," Rupp said.

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