Mo. tries again to win federal education grant

Friday, May 28, 2010 | 4:15 p.m. CDT

JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri is making a second attempt to win a share of $4.3 billion in federal education grants by pledging to develop a model curriculum for children in preschool through high school.

State education officials said Friday that they are seeking $222 million from the "Race to the Top" grant program. Missouri unsuccessfully sought $750 million in a first round of grants awarded earlier this year.

Tennessee and Delaware were the only states to win grants in the first round of the program, which is intended to encourage innovative approaches to boosting student achievements. Both of those states were lauded for policies that link teacher pay to student performance, for their charter school laws and because their plans had the support of all their school districts.

Missouri's application falls short of those goals.

The latest application lacks a portion on the expansion of charter schools and backs off the implementation of merit pay for teachers and principals, said Robin Coffman, chief of staff for the Missouri education commissioner.

It also lacks unanimous support from local school officials. About two-thirds of Missouri's 523 school districts signed a memo indicating their interest to participate in the initiative. In Missouri's first-round application, more than 90 percent of districts signed on to participate — but many did so at the urging of state officials without first having a chance to review the entire application.

This time, school officials were given greater opportunity to review the plan.

But "some school districts are wondering, why should we bother to publicly send a letter of support when it seems the odds of getting funding in the second round are not particularly good," said Brent Ghan, a spokesman for the Missouri School Boards' Association.

Coffman said Missouri's latest application is more narrowly focused than the first.

In addition to curriculum development, it includes incentives to study ways of closing achievement gaps among students. Some of the other aspects include the development of a model to help turn around struggling schools and a model for including student performance in educator evaluations.

"We think we've made a better blueprint for us in moving forward with reform efforts, whether or not we get the federal funding," Coffman said.

The grant application is significantly smaller because the federal government established limits for how much each state could request in the second round. Missouri's maximum request was $250 million.

Missouri shaved $550 million off its original application by eliminating a section that sought to expand high-speed Internet access throughout the state.

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