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Georgia again seeks federal school grant
States bid for Race to the Top funds fell short in March
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As Georgia schools continue to “race to the top” by pushing academic rigor, the state board of education hopes to score some money in return.

Georgia submitted its application to the U.S. Department of Education for the second round of federal “Race to the Top” grants, Gov. Sonny Perdue announced Tuesday. With 26 school districts in Georgia on board, the state could receive up to $400 million over four years to help with education innovation and reform.

Georgia was one of 16 finalists selected in March for the first round of interviews but didn’t make the cut. Delaware and Tennessee won the first round and earned $100 million and $500 million, respectively. Georgia came in third, short by 11 points on a 500-point scale.

“For now, it means little different than what we’re doing already but could potentially bring in several million dollars to the budget,” said Will Schofield, superintendent for Hall County Schools and a member of the state’s Race to the Top committee. “The largest positive is moving toward this performance-based school system. Everything is supposed to be scaleable so other districts have access to the expertise.”

The Race to the Top fund is a $4 billion grant under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 to help schools improve standards and assessments, develop teachers and leaders, create longitudinal data systems and boost low-achieving schools.

Perdue appointed Schofield to serve on the committee to create the initial proposal.

The state’s proposal includes ideas about a new data system, alternatives to Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests and high school graduation tests, and the new Common Core State Standards, a state-led initiative to develop a national curriculum for English-language arts and mathematics.

Gainesville schools are piloting new teacher and school leader evaluation assessments called CLASS Keys and Leader Keys.

“We have a year under our belt now and submitted the evaluations to the state to be scored and see how we fall as leaders,” city schools Superintendent Merrianne Dyer said Tuesday. “We’ll work with teachers in groups to discuss the standards, and the state has decided to revise the leader evaluation somewhat before implementing more training.”

Although the state’s proposal fulfills the grant’s four categories, the application hasn’t found support on all sides.

“One of the particular pieces that has continued to be controversial is the idea of pay per performance, where teachers’ salaries are based on the performance of students,” Schofield said Tuesday. “I’ll be the first to admit it’s difficult and messy, but that’s not an excuse not to do it. We should find a way to reward teachers who do great things with our boys and girls and not give a flimsy excuse for not trying.”

Dyer said Gainesville schools are prepared for any teacher compensation model that may come down the tracks but hopes to have a voice in the implementation.

“We would like to think we’ll have input because it appeared to be on the application,” Dyer said. “We thought we would have input and a study group and then the first application wasn’t successful because the state didn’t get input from the main teacher organization groups.”

The groups — the Georgia Educators Association, the Professional Association of Georgia Educators and the Georgia Federation of Teachers — still have their concerns.

Hubbard, president of the GEA, predicts a loss for the application and said the state hasn’t done enough to secure more buy-in from districts and the state associations. Twenty-six of 181 systems in the state simply isn’t enough, he said.

PAGE wonders how the money will be spent.

Grant money would be better spent “on improving teaching and learning rather than developing and piloting exotic and poorly thought out pay for performance plans that the state cannot afford,” PAGE spokesman Tim Callahan said in a news release.

Dyer is also curious about funding priorities. Part of the grant will help establish the longitudinal data systems, new evaluation programs and Common Core standards, but local districts wonder how much will come to them to help with strained budgets.

“How the money is distributed and what it will mean for us individually is not clearly known at this time,” she said. “Funding will help put things in place at the state level, and the districts will receive additional support to get a head start. I’m anxious to learn more about it.”

The U.S. Department of Education will announce winners in late August or early September.

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