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How Do You Spell Relief? $400 Million

The U.S. Department of Education has awarded $400 million to North Carolina as part of the Race to the Top competition. It's one of 9 states plus Washington, D.C. that were awarded a combined $4 billion in this second round of funding. The money will go toward turning around low-performing schools and better tracking student achievement. Dave DeWitt of North Carolina Public Radio reports. How would you feel if you won the lottery? Thrilled? Shocked? Maybe overwhelmed? In a professional sense, that's what happened to State Superintendent June Atkinson on Tuesday when she got the call that North Carolina's schools were getting $400 million over the next four years. "I must say I felt relieved that we finally have received the Race to The Top grant," she said. The victory in the Race to the Top competition did not come easily. For more than a year, education officials worked to mobilize the 115 school districts and local teacher associations, all of which signed on to the grant proposal. They lost out in the first round of funding. So they revised it's application. In the end, North Carolina ranked ninth in the final round - one spot ahead of the cut-off, but good enough to finish in-the-money. One of the reasons the state made the cut was the level of cooperation between administrators, business leaders, and teachers. Sheri Strickland is the president of the North Carolina Association of Educators. "You know, sometimes there was give and take and a little compromise along the way, but ultimately (it was) an application that we all believed would be successful and help move North Carolina along onto the next level of providing the education we all want for our kids," she said. Other states, like Colorado and New Jersey, suffered for a lack of cooperation. In a conference call with reporters, secretary of education Arne Duncan praised the winners for bringing various factions together. He also cited North Carolina's commitment to rural education. "North Carolina did some very creative work in how to get teachers into high-need rural schools. So a number of states really worked hard in this effort so their creativity in addressing rural challenges was part of why those states were successful," Duncan said. Administrators, elected officials, and educators rejoiced at the news yesterday, sending out press releases lauding the state's selection. Governor Bev Perdue said in a statement that children were one step closer to being guaranteed the best public education possible. But not everyone was celebrating with the same enthusiasm. "Yes, I'm happy that we received federal dollars, but I think I can also still say that I'm suspect on what is it that North Carolina will be doing differently in truly educating our children," said Darrell Allison preside of Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina. Allision and other charter school advocates were counting on the Race to the Top's focus on charter schools to force the state to ease its cap on them. That did not happen. Instead, the Legislature adopted a plan to allow school districts to create what they called "charter-like schools" if a certain school was failing. That seemed to score points with the Race to the Top evaluators, but not charter-school advocates like Allison. "When you look at the measures we have taken in true education reform, bringing on new ideas, allowing for other school models to exist and flourish, on behalf of families in our state, we have done nothing," Allison said. In less than a month, the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction has received $700 million from the federal government. The first $300 million went to retaining teachers. The $400 million in Race to The Top fundins will go mostly to turning around low-performing schools. And while there's disagreement over how to use it, there's a consensus that that much money increases the pressure for better results.