WASHINGTON — South Carolina failed Monday in its bid to land $300 million in new federal education money aimed at helping states make innovative changes that can be used by other schools nationwide.
Delaware and Tennessee won a combined $600 million in the initial Race to the Top grants awarded by U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan.
"This historic program has been a catalyst for education reforms across this country, prompting states to think deeply about how to improve the way we prepare our students for success in a competitive 21st century workplace," Duncan said.
State Education Superintendent Jim Rex acknowledged he was disappointed by the news. "We just won't be able to do as much as fast as we could have with this help."
Both Carolinas were among 16 finalists from 41 applicants for the federal money.
On a grading scale with 500 possible points, South Carolina was ranked sixth with 423 points by outside, nongovernmental education experts who reviewed the applications.
North Carolina, which sought $469 million, also was a finalist. It finished at No. 12 with 414 points.
With $4.35 billion available, Rex said he was surprised that Duncan decided to name only two winners in the first round.
"I would have thought that when you had 15 states and the District of Columbia as finalists and you've got (more than) $4 billion to dispense - and you're urgently trying to get states to move forward - they would have found more than two states to get funded," Rex said.
Duncan urged the 13 states that didn't get grants to apply for a second round of awards. But, he said, the first-round finalists won't get preference over other states.
"States that didn't win don't have a leg up for the second round," Duncan said. "It's a new competition. But where folks have done a great job, obviously, they can build on that existing work."
Duncan, however, set lower figures for the maximum amount of money states will be able to seek in the next round. Applications for that round are due June 1.
South Carolina can't apply for more than $175 million; North Carolina is restricted to seeking $400 million.
Federal education employees said more grants will be awarded in the next round, with 10 to 15 winners expected.
Rex said it was too early to decide whether to apply again.
"We're going to look at what can be cut back and modified, and how we can do it with less resources," he said. "The school districts are going to have to help us think this through."
North Carolina Gov. Beverly Purdue said her state will try again.
The Race to the Top grants come from the $787 billion economic stimulus bill that President Barack Obama signed into law in February 2009. South Carolina public schools have received $382 million from that stimulus bill.
The state's public schools have cut their budgets by more than $700 million in the last 18 months. Race to the Top money cannot be used to offset previous spending cuts.