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U.S. Insular areas petition Sec of Education for permission to compete in grants

Congressional members of four insular areas have written to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan for the territories of American Samoa, Guam, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands and the U.S. Virgin Islands be permitted to compete in the upcoming round of Race to the Top (RTT) District grants and all future RTT grant competitions.

In their June 7 letter commenting on the upcoming RTT grants, the Delegates point out that as part of the initial funding for the Race to the Top program, the four insular areas received an initial set-aside of one-half of one percent under the State Fiscal Stabilization Fund portion of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

USDOE “determined that our receipt of these funds disqualified our governments from receiving any additional funds under this [RTT] program as we had already received money designed to cover the activities under RTT,” the letter says. 

“We do not believe that this one-time set aside should permanently disqualify our districts (territories) from competing in RTT grant competitions and that legislation enacted after ARRA may provide USDOE with authority to include the territories in RTT grant competitions,” the letter says.

According to the USDOE website on the RTT-District program, eligible applicants include only individual local educational agencies (LEAs) and consortia of LEAs. It also says that the District Program is designed to encourage unprecedented innovation and bold comprehensive reform in elementary and secondary education. The statutory deadline for a grant application is Dec. 31, 2012.

The letter by the insular area delegates points out that Section 308 of the Fiscal Year 2012 Consolidated Appropriations Act (P.L. 112-74) appropriated funds for another round of RTT grants and specified that funding may be awarded to “States or to local educational agencies, or both, in accordance with the applicable requirements of that section, as determined by the Secretary.”

“We believe that the extension of grant funding to LEAs directly would supersede ARRA’s initial prohibition for our districts to compete for RTT funding, as it expanded eligibility beyond state education agencies,” the letter points out.

“Although our governments are not included in the statute’s definition of ‘state’, our governments deliver primary and secondary education as LEAs—similar to the education system in Hawaii—and this designation should permit our school systems to compete for RTT grants appropriated for in P.L. 112-74,” it says.

Furthermore, the delegates believe “the  statute’s ‘applicable requirements’ clause does not prohibit LEAs in our districts from competing for these grants.” Moreover, the “statute only expands the pool of eligible competitors while maintaining the Secretary’s discretion to award RTT grants from within this pool.”

“The Race to the Top program offers a unique opportunity for states and school districts to promote and measure student growth, encourage innovation, and transform the nation’s low-performing schools,” they wrote.

The congressional members noted that on Jan. 25, 2010, they wrote to Duncan and U.S. President Barack Obama requesting that the insular areas be included in the Race to the Top program.

“We once again make this appeal. The opportunity for educational agencies in our districts to compete for these funds could have a significant impact on improving the quality of education for our students,” they wrote and requested Duncan to permit LEAs in Guam, American Samoa, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, and the U.S. Virgin Islands to compete in the upcoming round of RTT grant funding and provide us with an equal opportunity to access these funds.

The letter is signed by Congressional members, Faleomavaega Eni of American Samoa, Madeleine Z. Bordallo of Guam, Gregorio K. C. Sablan of the CNMI and Donna M. Christensen of the U.S. Virgin Islands.

The very lengthy explanation on the RTT program competition be be found on the USDOE website: