The Results are In…Winners and Losers under the Education Department’s Grant Competition

So, how did your state fare under the Recovery Act’s education grants competition?  First, let’s look at how much was at stake. 

Of the almost $97 billion in funding for education under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, about half of the funding was used to stabilize state budgets during the financial crises and economic recession that followed to ensure the continuation of vital services.  Another 45 percent was used to augment existing grant programs, such as relieving school districts of part of the costs of educating children with disabilities and providing financial aid for poorer students to attend college.

A little more than $5.6 billion was set aside for competitive grants, of which about $600 million was for current programs and $5 billion was for new incentive funds dubbed Race to the Top and Investing in Innovation.  Although $5 billion for new incentive funds represented only about five percent of total Recovery Act funding for education, when compared to funding for regular education programs, this amount would rank as the Department’s fourth largest “grant program.”

It also reflects the Education Department’s emphasis on allocating a growing portion of both new and existing federal education dollars through a competitive grant process rather than by formula.  By dangling conditional federal dollars in front of states and school districts hungry for revenue to replace falling tax receipts, the Department can leverage changes in state and local policy without spending a dime. 

In order to qualify for Race to the Top and boost their chances of success, several states made changes to state laws before submitting their applications.  The Administration also believes that with limited federal resources, concentrating large chunks of dollars among a handful of recipients will lead to better outcomes.

States that won Race to the Top funds.

Now for the results?  Eight states captured 75 percent of the grant awards.  The winners were Florida, Georgia, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, and Tennessee.  (I guess the East Coast bias is not limited to sports only.)   

The losers were the remaining 42 states, plus Puerto Rico.  Ten states walked away with nothing: Alabama, Indiana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Dakota, Vermont, West Virginia, and Wyoming.  Two other states, Alaska and Montana, received less than $1 million each.

How does this distribution compare to what states normally receive under the Department’s competitive grant programs, that is, pre-Recovery Act?  For example, in the two years leading up to 2009, California won close to 12 percent of the total competitive grants awarded each year by the Department.  Under the Recovery Act’s competition, California received less than two percent, a difference of about $550 million from the state’s usual haul.  For Louisiana, the difference was a net loss of about $100 million.  For Michigan, Oregon, and Pennsylvania – the same.

How does the actual distribution compare to a common formula, such as Title I?  Texas receives more than nine percent of total funding under the Title I formula.  What about under the Recovery Act’s competition?  Texas received one percent – a net loss of about $460 million when compared to the distribution under Title I.  The opposite occurred for Tennessee.  The State won more than nine percent of the total under the Recovery Act’s competition, and netted $400 million more than the State would have otherwise received under Title I.

Perhaps, where one stands on the issue of driving more federal education dollars through competitive grants is based on where one stands – geographically.  I’m sure, however, that even in the winning states they recognize the impediments many districts face in trying to compete for needed federal resources. 

How do small, rural districts compete against districts with full-time staff devoted to grant writing, for example?  Beyond the practical issues, however, is a larger question.  Is it acceptable to layer on another level of disparity in resources on top of those that already exist across many of our public schools?

Comments (2)

  1. As a school committee member of a large district in a state that “won” (and I use the quotes intentionally), I agree with you. We have a full time grant department. We have a well-funded state ed department that lined up on this.
    I’m not in favor of much of what’s going on in education policy at the federal level, but the notion that somehow this was a fair competition is simply mistaken.

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