By: Noah Garrett, special to Local Tech Wire

WASHINGTON, D.C. – North Carolina’s Race to the Top is over.

North Carolina was one of 10 winners announced Tuesday by the U. S. Education Department in the second round of its Race to the Top competition, granting a portion of $3.4 billion to states who have provided plans to put their education systems in line with the federal government’s school reform goals.

North Carolina was one of 18 states and the District of Columbia named as a finalists in the second round of  in July. Since losing in the first round earlier this year, the state made significant moves in the time between to beef up its proposal.

In its application for $400 million over four years, the state proposed to lift student test scores, boost high school graduation rates, and make graduates better prepared for college and career. The state won points on its application by adopting national curriculum standards, and passed a law allowing school districts to start charter schools without having those schools count against the state’s 100-charter limit.

Thirty-five states and the District of Columbia turned in applications for the second round. That number was whittled down to 19 finalists last month. The 19 finalists each sent representatives to Washington two weeks ago to make their case in front of a group of peer reviewers and education department officials.

North Carolina’s competition as a finalist in Round 2 included: Arizona, California, Colorado, the District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and South Carolina.

Out of those finalists, the big winners today were New York and Florida – each receiving $700 million.

North Carolina, Georgia, and Ohio each received $400 million. Massachusetts and Maryland grabbed $250 million each while Hawaii, Rhode Island, and Washington D.C. each received $75 million, respectively.

While peer reviewers rated these 10 as having the highest scoring plans, very few points separated them from the remaining applications. The deciding factor on the number of winners selected hinged on both the quality of the applications and the funds available.

"We had many more competitive applications than money to fund them in this round," said Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan. "We’re very hopeful there will be a Phase 3 of Race to the Top and have requested $1.35 billion dollars in next year’s budget. In the meantime, we will partner with each and every state that applied to help them find ways to carry out the bold reforms they’ve proposed in their applications."

Independent observers predicted that North Carolina would be selected as a finalist in Round 2 because of the state’s strong showing in Round 1, where Delaware and Tennessee were the only two winners. North Carolina had applied for almost $470 million in Race to the Top money in the first round.

The applications for Race to the Top are ranked based on four main criteria that drive school reforms: turning around low performing schools, adopting college and career-ready standards, having effective teachers and principals, and using data systems to support student achievement.

Nearly every state in the country has applied for a slice of the money between both rounds of the competition. Many passed significant reform laws that allowed for the development of more charter schools and tightened teacher accountability and tenure requirements in order to increase their chances of winning a grant.

Nine of the states that submitted applications last time did not reapply in Round 2.

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