ED Proposes Changes, Flexibility for $5B School Turnaround Grant Program

School districts receiving money from the $5 billion School Improvement Grant program would be given additional flexibility in how they spend that money under a draft rule proposed by the Education Dept.

Public Comment Deadline: Oct. 8.

The proposed rule would put in place legislative instructions written into the FY 2014 omnibus appropriations bill. Most significantly, the rule would extend grants from three years to five, giving applicants more time to see results.

The controversial SIG program, which funds efforts to turn around the nation’s lowest performing schools, was funded at $505 million this year. Data suggest that the SIG schools don’t do as well as expected, despite the huge funding investment. For example, about two-thirds of SIG recipients, who received a cut of $5 billion in grant money, boosted students to proficiency on math and reading tests. But proficiency rates declined in about a third of the schools and in some categories, the results were even worse; 45% of schools that won the second round of SIG grants either slipped backward or saw no change in their math proficiency rates, and 40% declined or stagnated in reading. ED acknowledged the progress was “incremental.”

The proposed rule would:

  • Eliminate the much-debated “Rule of 9.” The old rule said districts with more than nine underperforming schools could not use the most flexible turnaround option (transformation) at more than half of their schools.
  • Allow states to use high quality early childhood programs as a turnaround strategy for failing elementary schools.
  • Offer rural schools additional flexibility when it comes to using the models; they could “opt-out” of at least one requirement under each option.
  • Mandate that schools find a partner with a strong record of improving low-performing schools. Partners would have to address school leadership, teaching and learning in at least one subject.
  • Require that districts conduct reviews of their SIG schools, and ensure that no SIG school is getting federal dollars for more than five years.
  • Better align the requirements for teacher evaluations at SIG schools with the requirements for teacher evaluation in the No Child Left Behind waivers.
  • Make sure that schools identified as “priority” or “focus” schools under the NCLB waivers are given first priority for funding.

ED Secy. Arne Duncan has been reluctant to make changes in SIG, which was created in 2009 using federal stimulus money. However, the funding bill, signed in January, required the department to fill in details. SIG money flows by formula to states, which then distribute it on a competitive basis. States will run spring grant competitions under the new rules.

About Frank Klimko

Frank Klimko is a nationally known journalist, grants expert and speech writer/speaker. He has years of experience helping nonprofits devise lists of the right funding opportunities and secure funding from these foundations and corporate entities. Clients have focused on an array of areas including child care, homeless, hunger and K-12 education. Additionally, he is a Freedom of Information Act expert, who has helped numerous clients with securing proprietary information from the federal government. Currently, Frank Klimko writes the Children & Youth Funding Report and Private Grants Alert, which are Washington DC-based publications. CYF is a daily publication covering Congress, the Education Dept. and the various federal regulatory agencies. PGA, another daily publication, covers the world of private philanthropy.
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