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Schools prepare for end of Race to the Top funding
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Millions of dollars available to school systems across the state are dwindling to an end, as federal funding is set to expire next year.

The money from the grant, known as Race to the Top, comes from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. Federal funds totalling $4 billion were set aside to help school systems implement Race to the Top mandates; Georgia was awarded $400 million. With that funding, the state partnered with 26 school systems including Hall County School District and Gainesville City Schools.

Gainesville received $1,739,700, while Hall County was awarded $4.2 million.

The grant funding for those 26 systems is scheduled to end Sept. 30, 2014, though individual systems were able to apply for an extension. Hall County plans to apply for a one-year extension, according to Terry Sapp, Hall’s school improvement specialist for high schools.

“There are no additional funds that come as a result of the extension,” Sapp explained. “The extension simply allows us additional time to complete our goals.”

Those goals are outlined in the grant, which boils down to four areas in education reform:

  • Recruiting, preparing, rewarding and retaining effective teachers and principals, especially where they are needed most;
  • Adopting standards and assessments that prepare students to succeed in college and the workplace and to compete in the global economy;
  • Building data systems that measure student growth and success and inform teachers and principals about how they can improve instruction;
  • Turning around lowest-achieving schools.

To achieve those goals, Georgia schools have been implementing Common Core curriculum standards; creating new evaluations for teachers and school leaders; focusing more on science, technology, engineering and math; and developing a statewide and inter-state database of student information.

“Those four things were written in there — that states would have to implement a plan for those things,” Gainesville Superintendent Merrianne Dyer explained about the grant parameters. “And now, states are moving toward (those policies) in part because they’re anticipating the change in the law and in part because many states applied for and received the grant.”

Those goals are in line with the re-implementation of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which was originally passed by President Lyndon B. Johnson. It’s been reauthorized every five years since the 1970s; the current reauthorization is the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. Those four primary goals are outlined in what’s currently the future reauthorization of the act.

“The No Child Left Behind era is coming to an end,” Dyer said. “There are drafts of two bills in the U.S. Senate and House ... and those bills have in there the initiatives (like) the Common Core standards, the teacher and leader evaluations tied to strategic compensation (and) the use of data systems to track progress and achievement.”

Unlike Hall, Gainesville won’t be applying for an extension; they plan to use the rest of their funding in the spring and over the summer for professional training and to pay performance bonuses.

The no-cost extension requires all funds to be used by June 30, 2015, Sapp said. Schools have until June 30, 2014, to apply for that extension.

“Basically, they won’t have any additional funds,” explained Jon Rogers, communications director with the Georgia Department of Education. “The extension would just allow them to use the funds that they already have been approved for to continue their projects for an additional year.”

Rogers explained the application for an extension would have to show how the system is on track to use the funds by the revised deadline.

Sapp said there was no one specific reason the county was requesting an extension.

“What (the grant ending) means is that we will not get that additional money, but we benefited by having it, whereas now all districts in Georgia are having to implement these changes,” Dyer said. “And they did not receive any funding.”