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States change applications for Round Two of Race to the Top

By Sally Holland, CNN
  • Round Two of Race to the Top applications due Tuesday
  • States competing for shares of $3.4 billion in federal education funds
  • Some states revised applications after Round One critiques
  • Tennessee, Delaware only states getting money from Round One

Washington (CNN) -- If at first you don't succeed, try, try again -- especially if the end result is a portion of $3.4 billion to be used for education in your state.

The second-round applications for the government's "Race to the Top" program that will divide up that education money are due Tuesday.

So a representative from the Louisiana Department of Education will go to Room 7041 at the U.S. Department of Education in Washington to drop off the state's application first thing in the morning.

Louisiana Superintendent of Schools Paul Pastorek says staffers finished up Louisiana's application Friday evening, making both substantive and cosmetic changes.

"Our big lesson learned was that we didn't communicate as well as we could have the first time around," he said in a phone interview Monday. Specifically, staffers worked to more integrate their STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) plans throughout the application, and to better describe their data capacity.

In Louisiana, they have also changed a law since Phase 1 of Race to the Top in hopes of bettering their chances.

"We have about 40 percent of our districts in Louisiana who have voluntarily agreed to a much more rigorous teacher evaluation program," said Pastorek. Last week the Louisiana legislature passed and the governor signed a law whereby all teachers will be put under those rigorous teacher evaluations in the next two years.

Louisiana placed 11th in the competition for funds in the first round of competition.

Race to the Top is a state competition that the U.S. Department of Education is running to "drive reform, reward excellence and dramatically improve our nation's schools," according to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

Tennessee and Delaware were the only two states to receive funding during the first round, with Tennessee receiving $500 million and Delaware awarded $100 million.

Forty states and the District of Columbia all turned in applications during that phase. Several of those states that tried the first time have decided not to put in the applications for the second phase.

In a letter to Duncan last week, Virginia Gov. Robert McDonnell said his state would take a pass this time because of the requirement to adopt common standards as part of the Race to the Top program.

He calls the program "overly prescriptive" and said that it disregards individual state initiatives and progress.

The letter states, "It is obvious from the critique Virginia received from the Round One grant process that we will be marked down dramatically in the peer review process to the point that we will not be competitive."