Montana misses cut for federal education program

2010-07-27T13:33:00Z 2010-07-28T06:15:20Z Montana misses cut for federal education programROB ROGERS Of The Gazette Staff The Billings Gazette
July 27, 2010 1:33 pm  • 

Montana learned Tuesday that it was out of the running for the U.S. Department of Education’s Race to the Top funding challenge.

The plan puts states in competition for federal stimulus dollars reserved for those that have high rates of academic achievement. Had Montana qualified, it could have earned between $20 million and $80 million had it met all the requirements, which include having state laws that support charter schools and creating teacher and principal evaluations that are based in part on student performance.

“We called our ‘Race to the Top’ application the ‘Montana Plan’ for a reason,” said Montana Superintendent of Public Instruction Denise Juneau. “And although we did not receive this federal grant, our education reform efforts will continue.”

When Montana applied earlier this year, hopes weren’t high that the state would qualify. Many state education officials believed Race to the Top requirements focused more on aiding and reforming failing urban school districts than on struggling rural school districts.

 “I don’t know anybody in education that is optimistic that Montana is going to be able to qualify for this money,” Jack Copps, former Billings School District 2 superintendent, said at the time.

Juneau acknowledged as much Tuesday.

“We worked hard,” she said. “The difficulty may be that the ideas the U.S. Department of Education has for educational reform may work for urban areas but are not necessarily the best fit for Montana.”

In its Race to the Top application, the state had 84 percent of its schools sign on, including School District 2. In all, the participation rate covered 94 percent of the state’s students.

Juneau sees that as a large show of support from its districts for creating an education plan that’s flexible and innovative — but one that does not subscribe to every federal mandate that comes from the Department of Education, she said.

“Many of those concepts simply will not work in a frontier state like Montana,” she said.

Contact Rob Rogers at rrogers@billingsgazette.com or at 406-657-1231.

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