The Education Dept. reworks regulations for a $5 billion grants program that funds local efforts to turn around poorly performing schools, giving states more time to resolve problems and greater flexibility in choosing a solution.
Effective Date: March 11.
The new regulations for the School Improvement Grants (CFDA Number: 84.377) competition allows school districts to implement additional interventions, provides flexibility for rural school districts and extends the grant period.
State educational agencies receive these funds and then make competitive subgrants to school districts demonstrating the greatest need. The school districts must to use the funds to provide adequate resources to raise substantially the achievement of students in their lowest-performing schools.
The revised regulations are in response to congressional prompting. Congress beefed up language in the FY 2015 spending bill, reiterating that schools must have additional flexibility when it comes to turning themselves around. It was level funded at $506 million in FY 2015, even though ED’s own research arm questioned both its viability and effectiveness. States love the program, with money flowing to almost every congressional district.
While turnaround proposals still need to be vetted by ED, a school district can develop its own plan instead of using the four models provided by the administration.
Previously, the school options were: closing a school; turning it into a charter; opting for the “turnaround model,” which meant getting rid of half the school’s staff and usually the principal; or selecting a “transformation,” strategy, which normally included extended learning time, data-driven instruction and performance pay for educators. Under the new rules, states can come up with their own ideas for turnarounds and submit them to the department for approval. And, states can work with a turnaround partner with a strong track record to back up its approach.
The regulations also would:
- Let schools keep their SIG grants for up to five years instead of three. That would allow for a planning year before the turnaround starts.
- Allows states to request a “start over” waiver in the school improvement timeline. Even though a school implementing the waiver would no longer be in improvement, it could still get SIG money.
- Give rural schools additional flexibility when it comes to using the models (they could “opt-out” of at least one requirement under each option.)
- Ensure that districts conduct reviews of their SIG schools, and make certain that no SIG school is getting federal dollars for more than five years.
- Eliminate the “rule of nine” which says districts with more than nine schools that are considered most in need of turnaround can’t use the most flexible option at more than half of their schools.
- Guarantee schools identified as “priority” or “focus” schools under No Child Left Behind (NCLB) are given priority for funding.
The mandates raise some interesting questions for the 42 states (and the District of Columbia) with waivers from the NCLB. The waivers, in general, mandate specific turnaround methods, but the new rules suggest a broader array of turnaround options for SIG schools in waiver states. The Federal Register notice is silent on that issue.