Last week, The U. S. Department of Education announced ten states that would receive funding in the Race To the Top program. Ohio was among the ten winners in the second phase, but local school officials are still in the dark as to what this could mean to districts in Van Wert County.

"There are just so many unanswered questions right now regarding Race To the Top that it's hard to pinpoint anything at this point in time," answered Van Wert City Schools Superintendent Ken Amstutz. "We don't know what the money can be used for, what it's going to be tied to, what will be all of the expectations of us. We went into this knowing there would be some expectations, but nothing was tied down. Those are the big concerns that I have as to how it will all fit into what we are trying to do."

Race To the Top is a part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, providing $4.35 billion in grant funding to improve the public school system. States were encouraged to compete for the money, with Delaware and Tennessee being chosen in Phase I on March 29. On Aug. 24, Ohio, eight other states and the District of Columbia were selected for Phase 2 of the program.

Crestview Local Schools Superintendent Mike Estes said, "We're interested in hearing more of the details. There are going to be some webinars and meetings coming up to define the state's expectations for districts that participate in the process. We entered the process with the understanding that it wasn't fully developed at that point. We will evaluate those as to whether or not we want to continue as part of that process."

At Lincolnview, chances are good that the district will not see any of the funds because of the lack of a required agreement with the teachers. "Our teacher's union, on the second round, chose not to participate in that. So, I'm not sure that that will entitle or if there will be any scenario that will allow a late entry," shared Lincolnview Local Schools Superintendent Doug Fries.

Race To the Top is designed to encourage and reward states that are succeeding. Specifically the winners are chosen for the ability to create the conditions for education innovation and reform, for achieving significant improvement in student outcomes, and implementing ambitious plans in four core education reform areas. Those areas include adopting standards and assessments to prepare students, building data systems to measure student growth, educating and retaining effective teachers and principals, and turning around low-achieving schools.

How much money could this mean to the districts? Nobody seems to know just yet. "We're guaranteed $25,000," Estes remarked. "I hope that's not all we're going to get with $400 million coming to the students and only districts signed up representing just over a million students. That sounds like $400 per pupil, and it's my understanding that 90 percent of the money is supposed to go to the districts."

Until more information becomes available from the state, administrators are waiting to see if the Race To the Top will make a significant difference for local districts or not.

"The State of Ohio has not given us any guidelines yet, but I'm assuming in the next several weeks that will happen," stated Amstutz. "We knew going in that we had to have an agreement with our teacher's union and we have done that. We also recognize there are some things we will need to change to meet that. But I don't think anything is too cumbersome. We just need to have some answers and we don't have those right now."