This year's payout of a three-year $416 million federal grant to struggling schools has been delayed for several California schools after monitoring teams found the state Department of Education and local districts not implementing required reforms.
At a tense meeting last month, unhappy State Board of Education members unanimously voted to withhold funds from 90 schools until they meet all conditions of the grant. The board also rejected the applications of 54 additional schools and ordered sweeping corrections in oversight at the state Education Department.
“I think that what appeared today was a major breakdown in the implementation of an important federal program,” board President Michael Kirst told the Top-Ed blog. “We got a significant rebuke from the federal government and we felt we had to act in order to show that we’re really trying to implement the federal law with integrity.”
Last year, schools on a controversial state "persistently low performing" list pledged to carry out broad reforms, ranging from firing their principals and half of their staffs to closing and restarting as charter schools. In return, each school received U.S. Department of Education grants of up to $2 million each year for three years. State education officials promised to ensure the reforms were carried out.
But when federal monitoring teams went to Los Angeles Unified, San Bernardino City Schools and San Francisco Unified in February, they found reforms not being implemented and the state completely unaware. San Francisco Unified, for example, did not replace any staff at schools who chose the "turnaround" option, despite the requirement that all be removed and no more than 50 percent rehired, federal officials found. And for some unexplained reason, one district school, Mission High, received more than the $2 million maximum.
State officials told the state board and education observers they were shocked by the report.
“I can tell you that ED (U.S. Department of Education) and CDE (California Department of Education) staff were speechless to see that large districts had implemented nothing that was required,” said Christine Swenson, director of the state Education Department's District and School Improvement Division.
One sticking point for school districts has been the requirement to provide extra classroom time for students. But districts said they weren't sure how much time to provide and which students to include. Many have complained that it is unclear what is acceptable under the federal guidelines. Everett Middle School ignored it, on the belief it had already implemented extended learning six years ago and didn't have to do anything else.
That issue, however, is being cleared up in federal-state talks, education observers say. State and federal education officials held meetings last week to iron out differences over how California schools should comply with grant requirements.