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Schools sprinting to win Obama's Race to the Top billions

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• Four states – Illinois, Tennessee, Louisiana, and Delaware – have raised or lifted their caps on the number of charter schools they permit, and at least seven more are working to do so.

• Some of the 11 states that don’t yet allow charter schools are considering proposals to do so.

“We’re saying, if you’re committed to real change in the way you educate your kids; if you’re willing to hold yourselves more accountable; if you develop a strong plan to improve the quality of education in your state, we’ll offer you a grant to help make that plan a reality,” Obama said in his remarks.

A competition for prestige

In federal terms, the $4 billion in Race to the Top funds is relatively small – especially compared with the other $95 billion for education, also included in the stimulus package, which went to more traditional expenditures like saving teacher jobs.

But the innovative design has given the money an outsize influence, say analysts – the promise of extra funds and the prestige that comes with it spurring states to demonstrate that they’re worthy.

“This is very historic…. You’re looking at a fundamental redefining of the federal role,” says Joe Williams, executive director of Democrats for Education Reform. With the guidelines that the administration has set forward, he adds, “there’s an established criteria for what it means to be a reform-minded governor or an education leader… The prestige is proving almost as valuable as the money.”

Four key areas of reform

In its draft guidelines for the fund, released in July, the administration announced it would be focusing on four key areas:

• Enacting internationally benchmarked standards, and tying assessments to them.

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