BY LAURA BROWN – The U.S. Department of Education selected Hawaii among 9 other winners in its Race to the Top competition out of 19 finalists.

That means Hawaii is now eligible to receive a portion of a total $3.4 billion remaining of the initial $4.35 billion in stimulus funding, estimated at about $75 million, according to Hawaii’s Interim Superintendent, Kathryn Matayoshi.

States that agreed to implement merit pay for teachers, adopt national common core standards and assessment and expand charter schools all received higher points on their applications.

“Securing this grant is just a stepping stone. We will now begin the hard work of implementing our education reform plan, which includes a common core curriculum tied to a new on-line state test while tracking student progress and rewarding teachers by linking 50 percent of their evaluation to student achievement. I am especially excited about our pledge to have 100 percent of high school graduates ready for a career and college without the need for post secondary remediation programs,” said Gov. Linda Lingle.

Hawaii’s application, over 1,200 pages long, outlined agreements that include a Memorandum of Understanding with the Hawaii State Teachers’ Association to allow teachers to be evaluated based on student performance and experienced teachers to be relocated to poor performing schools.

The plan contains everything from plans for College & Career Ready Diploma’s by 2018, the development of a new Office of Strategic Reform, headed up by a Special Assistant and 4 Educational Officers, new teacher evaluations and merit pay, Common Core standards, curricula and assessments that align nationally and increasing the percentage of the State’s operating budget for K-12 schools from 35.5 percent in 2005 to 41.2 percent in Fiscal Year 2009.

The Hawaii Board of Education adopted national Common Score Standards as a condition of the grant that will determine what students should learn in English and mathematics at each grade level.

Other initiatives included changing the kindergarten entrance age to conform to other states, improving data sharing among the Department of Education and University of Hawaii to improve the State’s longitudinal data systems and forming a task force to recommend ways to strengthen Hawaii’s early education system.

The DOE failed to qualify under Round I of the grant competition, but achieved additional points in Round II by adding assurances, such as equal student funding for charter schools.

Act 144 requires the non-facility general fund per pupil amount for charter school students equal the general fund per pupil amount, excluding special education, adult education and after school funds as long as the DOE provides those services. The bill also raises the cap on charter schools from 1 new start-up charter school for every accredited charter school to 3 new start-ups for each accredited charter school. The new law also allows the DOE or charter schools to apply to use vacant school facilities before they are sold.

Jeanne Allen, president of the Center for Education Reform and critic of Race to the Top, says, “Awarding money to states like Maryland and Hawaii which have done little to nothing to provide enhanced opportunities to children to close the achievement gap, diminishes the impact of this competition.

“Throughout the process, states got much credit for making changes to laws that were actually, in most cases, which will have little to no impact as long as teacher contracts control the classroom and quality school choices are limited or nonexistent.”

Hawaii lost in the first round of competition, but won national notariety for its shortest school year in the nation due to teacher furloughs.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan, in a speech to the National Press Club in Washington earlier this year, called the Race to the Top part of “a quiet revolution” in education reform.

Many states that unsuccessfully competed in the Race to the Top competition made reforms, such as lifting the cap on charter schools, to qualify for the stimulus grant.

Other winners of Race to the Top, Round II include: Florida, Georgia, Maryland, New York, Ohio, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, North Carolina and D.C.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 provided the U.S. Department of Education with a total of $4.35 billion for the Race to the Top grant. Tennessee and Delaware won the first round. Hawaii and 17 other states and Washington, D.C. competed for the remaining $3.4 billion.

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