Fifteen school districts and groups in Wisconsin, including the Verona School District and the YMCA of Dane County, are among nearly 900 nationwide intending to apply for a slice of the $4 billion Race to the Top grant program, the U.S. Education Department announced Friday.

The Madison School District, where President Barack Obama announced his signature education reform program at Wright Middle School in 2009, won’t apply for the latest round of the grant competition geared toward districts trying to close achievement gaps.

Nearly $400 million in federal funds are being offered to between 15 and 25 school districts or groups of districts in amounts ranging from $5 million to $40 million. Previously states have been eligible to receive the stimulus funds, though Wisconsin so far has not received any.

Madison superintendent Jane Belmore sent a memo about the district’s decision to School Board members Thursday, the day by which the U.S. Education Department asked districts to notify if they intended to apply. The application deadline is Oct. 30.

Madison recently completed and is now implementing "an ambitious and innovative plan to improve student achievement and close gaps." The district had discussed applying for Race to the Top funds in recent weeks, but decided the timing wasn’t right, Belmore told the board.

"A year or two from now, we feel MMSD would be poised to take advantage of an opportunity like this one and make a competitive case," Belmore wrote to the board. "But based on our implementation time line, we feel this grant does not come at the right time for our district. This year, we will be disciplined in focusing our internal resources on effectively implementing our achievement gap plan and making improvements for all students."

The Wisconsin school districts intending to apply include Baraboo, Beloit, Janesville, Kenosha, Milwaukee, New London, Verona, Waukesha and West Allis-West Milwaukee.

The groups intending to apply include: Another Chance Outreach (based in Milwaukee), Cooperative Educational Service Agency (CESA) 9 and the Wisconsin Digital Learning Collaborative (based in north central Wisconsin), CESA 10 (also based in northern Wisconsin), Education Literacy & Training Inc., Wisconsin eSchool Network (a consortium of 16 districts) and the YMCA of Dane County, which is coordinating with Sun Prairie.

Districts and groups that signaled their intentions to apply might still decide not to apply, and districts that did not signal their intention by Thursday can still apply, according to the U.S. Education Department.


Matthew DeFour covers state government and politics for the Wisconsin State Journal.