The Carson City School District was named Monday as a finalist in the running for millions of dollars in federal education grants through the Obama administration's Race to the Top district competition, beating out Nevada's two largest districts, which didn't make the cut for consideration.
"This is wonderful. We are so excited," Carson City Superintendent Richard Stokes told The Associated Press when informed that the district was among 61 finalists nationwide chosen from 372 applications by the U.S. Department of Education.
"These finalists are setting the curve for the rest of the country with innovative plans to drive education reform in the classroom," U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said in a statement. "This competition was designed to support local efforts to close the achievement gap and transform the learning environment in a diverse set of districts, but no matter who wins, children across the country will benefit from the clear vision and track records of success demonstrated by these finalists."
Steven Pradere, director of grants and special projects for the Carson City School District, which serves 7,100 students, said the district's proposal included hiring 10 teacher/trainers and developing a data system "to allow parents to monitor student progress."
It also would enhance programs to ensure students are prepared for college or technical career training.
The Education Department said that by the end of the year it will select 15 to 20 winners to receive the four-year grants ranging from $5 million to $40 million. Grant size will be determined by student population.
"We're keeping our fingers crossed," Stokes said.
Clark County and Washoe County school districts, the two largest in Nevada, also applied but weren't selected as finalists.
"We are disappointed, however we're very proud of Carson City," said Kristin McNeill, chief of staff at the Washoe County School District in Reno. "It does put Nevada in the spotlight, which is always great."
McNeill said Washoe County's application "was a blueprint for what we want to do in the school district."
"Obviously, without the funding we won't be able to do as much, but we will be able to put some aspects into place," she said.
The Clark County School District in southern Nevada, the fifth largest in the nation, had hoped its $40 million grant application would allow the hiring of 22 teachers and 24 support staff to provide technology and literacy programs at poorer schools, benefiting 41,000 students.
An ongoing dispute between district administrators and the Clark County Education Association over teacher pay and benefits threatened to derail the district's application before Gov. Brian Sandoval intervened at the 11th hour to broker an accord that allowed the application to at least be submitted. Union acceptance of the application was a requirement.
Clark County's application, however, didn't advance.
"The funding would have gone into the classrooms of our most at-risk schools," said district spokeswoman Amanda Fulkerson. "While additional funding would have been welcome, we are committed to our students and employees and are proud of the hard work by our team who prepared the application and our community, especially Gov. Sandoval, who stepped up to support it."
According to the U.S. Department of Education, applications were randomly assigned to three-person panels that independently read and scored each one. The scores of individual panel members were then averaged to determine an applicant's score.
The original Race to the Top competition, announced in 2009, set out to provide more than $4 billion in grants to states that undertook ambitious education reforms. In August, the Education Department opened its Race to the Top competition to school districts and invited the poorest districts across the country to vie for almost $400 million in grants.
To be eligible, districts had to have at least 2,000 students and 40 percent or more who qualify for free or reduced-cost lunches - a key poverty indicator.