La. nabs small piece of Race to the Top pie

by Heather Miller

The third time's a charm for Louisiana, one of seven states splitting a third (and much smaller) round of federal Race to the Top education grant money.

The state Department of Education is getting a $17.4 million gift from the Obama administration's controversial Race to the Top competition, a bonus that comes just two months after Gov. Bobby Jindal announced education reform as his top priority during his second term in office.

According to a release from LDOE, seven states (Arizona, Colorado, Illinois, Louisiana, Kentucky, New Jersey and Pennsylvania) are slated to share a $200 million pot. U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan says the states were all finalists from other rounds that didn't make the cut - but continued to implement reform plans without the funding.

Round 3's race ends with a much smaller pool of money than past Race to the Top bids. According to The Times-Picayune, the feds doled out more than $3 billion in Race to the Top money in 2010. States raked in awards that ranged from $75 million to $700 million.

The governor's education initiatives, such as more charter schools and basing teacher evaluations on student performance, represent a rare common ground between Jindal and the Obama administration, which bases its Race to the Top awards on those same policy reforms.

This round of the competition also called for states to increase the number of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) curriculums, such asĀ  the Lafayette Parish STEM Academy school of choice at David Thibodaux Career and Technical High School.

Lafayette Parish was among the vast majority of school districts in the state opting not to participate in the grant competition. Out of 70 school systems in the state, only 20 jumped on board. School districts in St. Landry and St. Mary parishes were the only ones in Acadiana to sign on, meaning they'll receive their share of "flow-through dollars" directly, according to the state Department of Education.

About 57 percent of the $17.4 million will go directly to school districts, while the remainder of the award will be used for "statewide initiatives that should benefit all Louisiana students," The Times-Picayune reports.

Read more on the most recent Race to the Top announcement here and here.