March 30, 2010; Christian Science Monitor | Remember the brouhaha about the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s grants to a small number of states to help them apply for Race to the Top moneys from the U.S. Department of Education? There was lots of criticism, which got the Gates Foundation to expand the availability of its support to more states.

The results are now in. Only two states out of 41 that applied got the awards—Tennessee for $500 million and Delaware for $100 million, leaving the bulk of the money ($3.4 billion) for a second round of applications, due on June 1st.

Did the Gates money help? Although many of the finalists were recipients of Gates support, only Tennessee made it to the finish line this week. Delaware wasn’t on the Gates list. What happened? This one is like telling the future from chicken entrails. Did Secretary Duncan leave most of the money on the table so that decisions on round 2 would be closer to the time of the 2010 elections? Did Duncan pick Tennessee and Delaware because, as some have charged, Duncan is wooing Tennessee Republican Senator Lamar Alexander and Delaware Republican Congressman Mike Castle, the minority chairs of education committees in both chambers, for support of the Obama Administration’s revision of the No Child Left Behind program?

Tennessee was long considered a bettor’s choice to win, but Delaware seems to have surprised many. The Administration isn’t rewarding spending commitments, as Tennessee ranked at the bottom of the 16 finalists in terms of per pupil expenditures ($7,129, compared to the highest, Massachusetts, at $12,857). The Christian Science Monitor went through all 41 applications, scores, and (secret, unidentified peer) reviewer comments posted by the Department.

Some observers thought that states might have some legitimate complaints about the scoring, but a representative of the Center on Education Policy (leaning conservative) suggested that “Duncan wants to establish a very high bar and then have the rest of the states compete further.” Apparently, some of the rules for the second round will change, so the race begins anew. Will the Gates Foundation and other big education-oriented foundations weigh in again? Will nonprofits committed to education have roles to play in round 2 or be left at the starting gate?—Rick Cohen