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Updated: Virginia shut out of President Obama's Race to the Top education program

Anita Kumar

Virginia was not selected as one of the 16 states to receive money through President Obama's $4.35 billion Race to the Top education program.

Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) lobbied aggressively for $350 million, which is funded by the Recovery Act. He spoke to Obama about the application recently when he sat at the president's table at a black-tie White House dinner. Virginia Education Secretary Gerard Robinson talked up the state when he appeared with U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan at a Falls Church school in January. McDonnell and Robinson have each placed several calls to Duncan updating him on Virginia's progress.

The $4.35 billion Race to the Top program was enacted last year as part of the $787 billion economic stimulus plan, marking one of the largest federal expenditures ever on the nation's public schools. It uses grants to encourage school systems to raise academic standards, improve testing, make better use of data to track student achievement and do more to fix failing schools, among other goals. States are encouraged to enact laws that promote the establishment of charter schools and other innovative programs.

McDonnell had said he hoped the state's grant application would be helped by his proposals to expand the number of charter schools and to create virtual schools, in which students learn outside traditional classrooms, and laboratory schools, which partner with colleges. His bills have not received legislative approval, but as we reported earlier today, they are on their way to garnering approval.

Update: McDonnell issued a statement late this afternoon: "Today's decision in Washington shows that we have waited far too long to bring new positive public school innovations like charters, college laboratory schools and virtual schools to young people in the state,'' he said in a statement. "I look forward to helping lead a bipartisan effort to bring innovation and opportunities to Virginia's public schools, to the benefit of students, parents and teachers."

McDonnell said he was disappointed with the decision, but that Virginia will be submitting an application for phase two of the Race to the Top program later this year.

"With the recent votes in the House and Senate for our educational reform agenda, we will now be able to demonstrate that Virginia is ready to engage in real education reform and implement creative and successful initiatives to better educate all our public school children,'' he said.

Virginia applied for $350 million through the Race to the Top program Jan. 15, the day before McDonnell was inaugurated. The application, which was a joint effort by former governor Tim Kaine and McDonnell, included letters of support from groups that represent teachers, school boards, principals and superintendents, and colleges.

Some of the money could be spent on new jobs, but much of it would go to developing curriculum, expanding a database of student records and training existing employees.

The $350 million requested by Virginia would have been split between the state and the 117 local education agencies that have asked for funding. Money would have been spent on charter schools and low-performing schools, finding and retaining teachers, and improving student assessment, among other purposes. All of Northern Virginia's school systems signed on.

Forty-one states applied for first-round grant money. Virginia will apply for a second round of money. Obama announced at a Fairfax County school in January that he will award an additional $1.35 billion to schools in another round of Race to the Top funding this year. Those applications are due in June.

By Anita Kumar  |  March 4, 2010; 12:17 PM ET
Categories:  Anita Kumar , Barack Obama , Robert F. McDonnell  
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I'm a Democrat and this is a remarkably disappointing decision. Look, I didn't vote for McDonnell, but I do respect that this is one area where he and Obama completely agree. In fact, McDonnell has been one of the most notable supporters of this program. Obama not inviting McDonnell to an event in Virginia to support the program, and now not having Virginia as a grantee in this first round is pure partisanship. To the Obama Administration- the bipartisan street goes two ways.

Posted by: ChrisD4 | March 4, 2010 1:01 PM | Report abuse

no free lunch from DC. time to live within our means. privatize the DMV and liquor stores. cut that budget. cut it to ribbons.

Posted by: millionea7 | March 4, 2010 1:21 PM | Report abuse

While I share disappointment over this result, nobody did more to hurt Virginia's chances in the competition for funding than Governor McDonnell did by gutting educational funding in his pass at the biennial budget.

The point of this program is to take education programs and take them to the next level, not to give states a way to dodge funding responsibilities.

So, when the amendments the Governor issued last month specifically maimed the programs he'd asked the Feds to augment--McDonnell generated an impression that killed any chance Virginia had for winning a grant.

Let's get real--the Feds aren't going to throw improvement funds at efforts Virginia's own Governor won't support.

Posted by: ViennaBelle | March 4, 2010 2:58 PM | Report abuse

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