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CT Rejected in First Round of Race to the Top
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Federal education officials announced finalists in the high-stakes Race to the Top education reform competition on Thursday. Connecticut did not make the list. WNPR’s Diane Orson reports.

Race to the Top, funded through the Recovery Act with the support of Congress, put $4.3 billion on the table. States submitted applications demonstrating their commitment to innovative school reform. 40 states applied for funding in the first round. Fifteen were named as finalists - Connecticut was not selected. Speaking to reporters, Education Commissioner Mark McQuillan said Connecticut is at a turning point.

"This is the moment where we have to pull together as a state – and genuinely pull together as a state, to engage in the hard questions and dialogue that I think will be necessary in the weeks ahead."

The state had hoped to receive up to $175 million in education funding.  School leaders and lawmakers gathered in Hartford on Thursday to express a renewed commitment to work together to reform CT’s schools.  Bridgeport mayor Bill Finch spoke personally about why Race to the Top is important.

"My son just started kindergarten this year in a non-performing school.  The mayor of state’s largest city gets to send his child to a non-performing school. But I believe in the public schools. Maybe there’s a blessing in disguise here that we weren’t in the first round. Because we gotta get this right. My kid’s future is depending on it."

In a national conference call with reporters, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said states not selected in the first round should reapply in Phase Two of the competition. And he says Washington hopes to expand the contest to include a Phase Three.

"The president has proposed $1.35 billion in next year’s budget to continue Race to the Top, and we look forward to working with Congress to make that happen."

Alex Johnston of ConCANN says Washington has made its education priorities are clear.  He urges Connecticut legislators to act quickly in three areas.

"First, we’ve got to put a system in place where we can actually measure how our teachers and principals are preparing our students. We also need to insure that we create an alternative certification pathway for school leaders. And ensure that charter schools have the ability to grow."

In a statement, Governor Rell said news about RTT was disappointing but not unexpected.   

For WNPR, I’m Diane Orson.