Colo. misses out on first ‘Race to the Top’ awards

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Colorado has failed in its first bid to win millions of federal dollars for education reform, and officials are evaluating whether the state should enter the second round of the “Race to the Top” competition.

Gov. Bill Ritter said Monday it was likely the state would try again, but first he wants to see how Colorado stacked up against the other 15 finalists in the race and determine the chances of improving its score.

He acknowledged that the issue of how teachers get and keep tenure would be part of the discussion but hasn’t decided whether the state should pass a law on the subject. Both of the first-round winners announced Monday by the U.S. Department of Education — Tennessee and Delaware — have passed laws linking teacher tenure to student performance.

To boost Colorado’s application in the first round, Ritter signed an executive order creating a council to recommend ways to gauge whether teachers and principals are effective. At least half of their grade is based on the academic growth of their students.

Sen. Michael Johnston, D-Denver, said Monday he plans to introduce a bill similar to ones passed in Tennessee and Delaware. Johnston, a former education adviser to President Barack Obama, said the executive order was a good start but that a bill would make it clear that the Legislature supports the policy.

Johnston said Ritter’s council would still recommend the standards for how teachers and principals are evaluated.

Ritter said he’s waiting to see the final details of the bill and find out how much it might help Colorado’s chances of winning.

The Colorado Education Association, the teachers’ union, backed the executive order but downplayed the importance of passing such a bill.

CEA spokeswoman Deborah Fallin said evaluators didn’t ask one question about the executive order when Colorado officials presented the state’s plan in Washington, D.C.

Tennessee and Delaware were also picked as winners because all their school districts and nearly all their teachers’ unions backed their applications.

Colorado’s bid was backed by more than two-thirds of districts, which account for 94 percent of its 802,000 kindergarten through 12th grade students, along with the teachers’ union.

Colorado, the only Western state named as a finalist, applied for $377 million in the first round to pay for things such as expanded merit pay for teachers and new systems to track the performance of teachers and principals.

The second-round grants will be based on population, and Colorado would be eligible for up to about $170 million.

- Associated Press