ATLANTA – Governor Sonny Perdue today announced that Georgia has been selected as a finalist by the U.S. Department of Education for the first round of federal “Race to the Top” grants. Georgia stands to receive up to $462 million over four years to implement its plan if selected.

“Georgia’s designation as a finalist in the Race to the Top competition is further proof that we are moving in the right direction to advance student achievement in our state,” said Governor Sonny Perdue.  “Our work to transform education in Georgia is being recognized nationally, but it is only a beginning.  We must continue to align our funding and policies with our desired outcome of improved student achievement.”

The Race to the Top fund is a $4 billion grant opportunity provided in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) to support new approaches to improve schools. The fund is available in the form of competitive grants to encourage and reward states that are creating conditions for education innovation and reform, specifically implementing ambitious plans in four education reform areas:

  • Adopting standards and assessments that prepare students to succeed in college and the workplace and to compete in the global economy;
  • Building data systems that measure student growth and success, and inform teachers and principals about how they can improve instruction;
  • Recruiting, preparing, rewarding, and retaining effective teachers and principals, especially where they are needed most; and
  • Turning around our lowest-achieving schools.

Forty states and the District of Columbia submitted applications for Phase I of the Race to the Top grant competition.  From those applications, the U.S. Department of Education invited 16 to send a five-member team to interview in Washington D.C. in mid-March.  The U.S. Department of Education estimates final winners will be announced in April 2010.

   “I look forward to sharing more information with Secretary Duncan about our state’s education playbook and why Georgia is the best investment for these funds,” said Governor Sonny Perdue.

Georgia’s application was prepared through strong partnership between the Governor’s Office, the Georgia Department of Education, the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement, and education stakeholders. Four working groups and a fifth critical feedback team consisting of teachers, principals, superintendents, higher education faculty, non-profit and informal education organizations, state policy makers, and members of the business and philanthropic communities developed the ideas for inclusion in the state’s application.

“I am very pleased, but not surprised, that Georgia has been named a finalist for Race to the Top funds,” said State Superintendent of Schools Kathy Cox. “For seven years, Georgia has been focused on the very issues called for in the Race to the Top application. We are implementing a world-class curriculum, raising expectations and using quality data to make decisions so our students will be globally competitive. Race to the Top funds will give us more resources needed to continue this vital and important work.”

Recommendations focus on strengthening traditional and alternative preparation programs for teachers and leaders, supporting teachers more effectively in the classroom, evaluating teachers and leaders with consistent and objective criteria that inform instruction, and rewarding great teachers and leaders with performance-based monetary bonuses.

The application also calls for Georgia to adopt and implement common curricular standards and internationally-benchmarked assessments that indicate Georgia’s ability to compete within a globally-connected economy.  Governor Perdue is co-chairing a state-led initiative for common-core state standards through the National Governors Association.

Twenty-three local school districts have signed on to partner with the state in implementing Georgia’s Race to the Top plan. These districts, which make up 41 percent of public school students in Georgia, include: Atlanta, Ben Hill, Bibb, Burke, Carrollton, Chatham, Cherokee, Clayton, DeKalb, Dougherty, Gainesville, Gwinnett, Hall, Henry, Jones, Meriwether, Muscogee, Rabun, Richmond, Rockdale, Spalding, Valdosta and White.

The state will work closely with these systems to implement the ideas contained in the application. Fifty percent of the funds awarded to Georgia will be distributed to the local partners to meaningfully enact the Race to the Top reforms. The state will study the effectiveness of these practices to identify and scale up those that prove to be effective.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation selected 15 states, including Georgia, to benefit from technical assistance for RT3 application development. The states were selected based on how well poised they are to win Race to the Top based on progress in education policy and reform. Georgia partnered with The Parthenon Group, a consulting firm based in Boston, which specializes in part in education reform.