Illinois heading to DC to pitch for Race to the Top funds

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Gov. Pat Quinn’s administration today confirmed the five representatives who will travel to Washington DC on March 17 to defend Illinois’ Race to the Top application. At stake: up to $510 million in federal stimulus dollars that would jumpstart changes to teacher evaluations and other school improvement initiatives.

Called upon to defend the state’s bid will be: Miguel del Valle, Chicago City Clerk and chairman of the state’s P20 Council, and Audrey Soglin, executive director of the Illinois Education Association. They will be joined by Chris Koch, superintendent of Illinois schools, his general counsel, Darren Reisberg and his chief of staff Susan Morrison.

Gov. Pat Quinn’s administration today confirmed the five representatives who will travel to Washington DC on March 17 to defend Illinois’ Race to the Top application. At stake: up to $510 million in federal stimulus dollars that would jumpstart changes to teacher evaluations and other school improvement initiatives.

Called upon to defend the state’s bid will be: Miguel del Valle, Chicago City Clerk and chairman of the state’s P20 Council, and Audrey Soglin, executive director of the Illinois Education Association. They will be joined by Chris Koch, superintendent of Illinois schools, his general counsel, Darren Reisberg and his chief of staff Susan Morrison.

Illinois is one of 16 finalists in the first round of the Race to the Top competition. In this round, up to $2 billion will be awarded to a handful of states to take the lead adopting common academic standards, turning around struggling schools, changing the way educators are prepared and evaluated and revamping data systems to better track student achievement and teacher effectiveness.

Illinois can send no more than five representatives to DC, where they will give a 30-minute presentation highlighting proposed reforms and take questions for another hour from judges who will try to determine if the state truly has the capacity to see reforms through. Winners will be announced soon after presentations end.

Picking the state’s representatives takes on an obvious political dimension. Quinn’s picks suggest what his administration believes to be the state’s competitive advantages.

Koch and his two deputies were instrumental in writing Illinois’ 600-page bid and know the underlying details well. Del Valle has focused on school issues for much of his political career and his position on the P20 Council suggests Illinois will emphasize its plans to bring together universities and K12 schools. Soglin’s presence reinforces the relatively strong support from unions for Illinois’ application.

Notably missing from the panel is the governor himself. According to Education Week, governors from North Carolina, Georgia, Delaware and Tennessee will be going. But Quinn and his top representative, Jerry Stermer, are involved in demanding budget negotiations with state lawmakers.

This week, Illinois and several other finalists have been honing their presentation with help from the Aspen Institute, a nonprofit with extensive education credentials. Officials, not wanting to tip their hand toward the competition, declined to provide details on Illinois’ presentation. It will, however, strongly emphasize the state’s “groundswell of support” and meaty negotiations that went into the bid’s design, says Matt Vanover, a spokesman with the Illinois State Board of Education.