Education Committee Federal Information Alert: Rules for District Race to the Top Contest Proposed

The U.S. Department of Education released draft regulations on May 22, 2012 for a district-level Race to the Top (RTTT) competition. The regulations will be open for comment through June 8, 2012 on the Department’s website. Final applications are due in mid-July and districts will apply in October, with $400 million funding to be distributed by the end of December 2012. 

RTTT background: This is the latest iteration of RTTT competitive grants. The program began in the 2009 economic stimulus legislation. So far, about $5 billion has been awarded. Eleven states and the District of Columbia were initially awarded first state-level grants, and seven states received grants in the second round. RTTT Early Learning Challenge grants were awarded to nine states. Congress appropriated $550 million for RTTT in the FY 2012 budget.  In addition to the $400 million in district-level grants, $133 million will be awarded to states that narrowly missed out in the earlier Early Learning Challenge fund grant competition and have been invited to apply in a second round.

Who Can Apply: School districts can apply for the funds individually, or as part of consortium with other districts, even those in other states. Charter schools, and any other organization defined as a “local education agency,” can apply. In order for a plan to be considered, the district superintendent, the local school board, and the local union president (in districts with unions) must sign off. Districts are asked to specify whether or not they are rural, and if they are in a state that has already won a grant in RTTT.   (Districts already benefitting from the earlier, state-level rounds of RTTT are eligible.) State superintendents won’t be able to stop a district application, but they must be given at least five days to examine and comment—or decide not to comment—on the district plans. That’s the same process for local government officials, including the mayor or town administrator.

In order to compete for the funds, districts would have to promise to implement evaluation systems by the 2014-2015 school year that take student outcomes into account not only for teacher and principal performance but for district superintendents and school boards. The state-level competitions did not include the latter groups.    In addition, district-level applicants will have to put into place data systems that can track student progress from pre-school through K-12 and post-secondary education, as well as a mechanism to link student performance to their teachers. 

Size of Awards: The size of the awards depends on the student population of the successful applicant:

  • 2,500-5,000 students—$15 to $20 million
  • 5,001-9,999 students—$17 to $22 million
  • 10,000 or more students—$20-$25 million

At least 40% of the students served across all participating districts or consortia must be from low-income families (i.e., eligible for free or reduced price lunch.    A district or consortium plan does not have to serve all students in all schools. Plans could be directed toward low-performing schools or particular grade spans.

What the Department Wants to See from Applicants: Applicants will have to address the “four assurances” that were hallmarks of the state-level RTTT: teacher quality, turning around low-performing schools, boosting data quality, and improving standards and assessments. This time around, districts will have to explain how they plan to do a better job of individualizing instruction for all students, so that they graduate college-and-career-ready. Districts could use personalized learning plans, and offer extra supports such as technology to accomplish this. They could also use a competency-based approach to instruction.

For additional information: Please contact Lee Posey ( or Michael Reed (, or call NCSL’s D.C. office at (202) 624-5400. You can also access the Department of Education’s web site at, and you may direct questions to


Lee Posey 5/23/2012