Flickr photo by Rob Shenk
After months of budget cuts, layoffs and an embarrassing poor showing in the Obama administration's reform contest, California finally got a nearly $416 million break.
Last week, state Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell announced California was awarded $415,844,376 from the U.S. Department of Education to help fund education reform. The money, which comes through the federal School Improvement Grant (SIG) program, is set aside for 188 schools that were designated by the state as "persistently low-achieving."
I am very grateful to President Obama and U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan for making this critical funding available for California’s persistently lowest-achieving schools,' said O’Connell in an e-mailed statement. This grant will help fund efforts to turn around persistently struggling schools in order to prepare their students for success in college and careers.
But there are two potential catches: 1.) Any school that accepts the money must agree to implement one of four very serious reform plans; and 2.) schools have until Friday to apply for the funds.
Of the 188 schools on the state list, only 17 have agreed to try the reforms. The program is voluntary. So, if a school district decides to turn down the grant money, the state can't make it adhere to the reforms, which involve either:
Firing the principal and at least half of the staff
Closing and re-opening as a charter school
Permanently shutting down
Replacing the principal and adopting a longer day
Escondido Unified has already announced that it is firing the principal and most of the staff of one of its elementary schools to qualify for the funds. The school joins Santa Ana and San Bernardino Unified as the only districts to agree to the drastic measures.
Prior to last week's announcement, large districts like Oakland Unified and San Diego said they would pass up on the state's program. But if they reconsider, and get an application into Sacramento this week, they could qualify for up to $2 million in funds for the next three years. With mass layoffs being announced for next year, will the cash be too tempting to pass up?