‘Worst’ schools have 1 week to seek $416 million
California finally heard this week that it will indeed receive $416 million in federal money over three years to help turn around 188 schools identified as the state’s lowest performing.
But districts won’t learn until late next month how much they’ll be entitled to, leaving virtually no time to prepare teachers and parents for the massive changes the schools will be forced to undergo this fall. .
This sit-tight-and-rush approach to school reform may discourage some districts from seeking the money. They now have one week, until July 2 at 4 p.m., to file their School Improvement Grant applications with the state.
Under rules laid out by U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, the 188 schools must choose one of four options for reforms:
- Firing the principal and at least half of the staff (turnaround model);
- Reconstituting as a charter school (restart model);
- Shutting down and transferring students to better nearby schools (closure model); and
- Replacing the principal and adopting a longer day and other school improvement strategies (transformation model).
Depending on which model they choose and the size of their school, schools will be eligible for between $150,000 and $2 million per year. The State Board of Education hasn’t determined a formula for distributing the money and won’t decide allocations until it holds a special meeting in late July. Its staff must read all of the 200-plus page applications and make recommendations within three weeks.
School transformations ideally take a year of planning and a full summer of staff training, unlike in California’s case, a few months of planning. But for troubled schools facing budget cuts and federal sanctions for low performance, the prospect of up to $6 million may be hard to turn down.
In January, as part of the competition for federal Race to the Top funding, the Legislature adopted the four reform models and parameters for determining the persistently low-performing 5 percent of schools. After months of negotiating with the feds over the list, the state recommended and the State Board of Education designated the 188 schools in March. It was not without controversy, and some districts complained loudly about criteria that were used.
Many legislators assumed that all of the 188 schools had to undergo the reforms, but, in fact, the list simply made schools eligible to apply for federal School Improvement Grant dollars. And some districts have already said that they won’t do so for some or all of their schools on the list, because they object either to the deadlines or to the designations.
Because of delays in final federal approval of the state’s plan for the money, districts have not been able to submit their applications. State education officials nonetheless encouraged districts to get a head start by proceeding with a draft application and sending it in for an early review. But fewer than a dozen districts have done that.
So it’s unclear how many districts with the 188 schools will be seeking the funding. There would not be enough money for all to request the full amounts. But, with frustrations over the delays, that’s increasingly unlikely.
The odds for a lot of money for those who do apply look good. For some districts, that’s about all the program has in its favor at this point.