Archive for the ‘U.S. Department of Education’ Category

Yesterday, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced the winners of the second round of the Race to the Top competition.

The 10 winning Phase 2 applications are: the District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, and Rhode Island.

During the second phase of the competition, 35 states and the District of Columbia applied for a portion of the $3.4 billion remaining funds. That list dwindled down to 19 finalists last month. The 10 winners were decided based on the scores they received from peer-review panels. All the winners received a score of more than 440 out of a possible 500. In the first phase of the competition, only the two winners, Delaware and Tennessee scored above 440.

The 10 winning applicants have adopted rigorous common, college- and career-ready standards in reading and math, created pipelines and incentives to put the most effective teachers in high-need schools, and all have alternative pathways to teacher and principal certification.

The $4.35 billion Race to the Top Fund includes $4 billion for statewide reform grants and $350 million to support states working together to improve the quality of their assessments, which the Department plans to award in September.

Sources: ABC News and the Department of Education

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By Jeff Pett, Fleetwood Group

What is going on in education in this economy?

Schools across the country are scrambling to come up with the funds for both buildings and operations. When times are good this can be difficult, but since the fall of 2008 the funding has fallen off precipitously creating a funding gap in most states and raising the “degree of difficulty. 

Where does all that education money come from, anyway?

According to the U.S. Department of Education Website, “The responsibility for K-12 education rests with the states under the Constitution.”  Most funding for K-12 education still comes from “local” sources, whether that is very local (like a city) or a state (not as local).  In fact, about 83 percent of school funding still comes from state and local coffers. The federal government’s share is about 8.3 percent. (For those of you doing quick math, yes, you are right. That still leaves around 9 percent.  Most of that remaining amount comes directly from parents funding private schools.)

So no matter what the federal officials are promising in education spending, their hands are tied by the constitution as to how much they can really help, and the real challenges are faced by the states. That is both good and bad news. Every one of us has more of an opportunity to shape how our education dollars are spent since we live closer to where the majority of decisions are being made.  But if you live in a state that is particularly hard hit by a recession (like here in Michigan), there are very few options to keep our schools running well.

In Michigan, back in the 90’s, we passed Proposition A which moved most of the funding for schools from our property taxes to the state sales tax.  While this had the positive effects of helping the poorer districts and relieving the property tax burden on homeowners, it took a lot of decision making further away from the local cities and towns. 

Now with the auto industry being hit hard people, are moving out of the state in droves causing all areas of tax revenues to drop.  The state has been cutting the amount of per pupil funding putting school districts in the unenviable position of having to cut programs and staff to stay financially viable.

Sidebar: Anything we fund via tax money is very vulnerable to an economic slump. Since the number one expense for schools is staff pay and benefits, maybe we should tie pay and benefit levels to percent increase/decrease in those revenues. Jobs would be secure, but pay would be variable. Very radical, I know. We’ll leave that for another time.

Obviously, this is not just a Michigan problem. Pick your state, pick your impacted industry and you have a similar story. 

Now enter those of us trying to make a living selling into this market. I don’t have to tell you how tough it is. But with so much pain and angst reverberating through most school systems whose administrators are just trying to figure out how to heat buildings and keep teachers in the classroom, it is pretty easy for them to put off buying furniture and equipment for another year.  We may not have seen the bottom of this downturn. 

Unfortunately, that means a lot of people are losing their jobs as we speak, both in schools and in the businesses that supply schools. Our industry is “shaking out.”  Until the economy turns around enough for people to pass school bond issues at the polls, while also spending more money that generates tax income, we are likely to see these trends continue.

Are you ready for at least one sign of hope? 

According to the Michigan Department of Treasury Website, in our state—which has the nation’s highest unemployment—24 of the 35 reported (to date) school bond issues were passed this month (69 percent).  That compares to 47 percent in 2007 (the last full year before the economic meltdown) and 48 percent in 1999 (the end of the decade of almost universal prosperity). 

If people in Michigan are willing to approve a significantly higher percentage of tax increases for their schools in the midst of our economic misery, maybe we ARE near the bottom!

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On November 12, 2009, the U.S. Department of Education (ED) released the final application for the Race to the Top Fund. The $4 million program will reward states that have raised student performance in the past and that have exemplified the capacity to accelerate achievement gains with innovative reforms.

The U.S. Department of Education wants states to build comprehensive and coherent plans, which are built around the four areas of reform outlined in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). These areas include:

1) Using college- and career-ready standards and assessments

2) Building a workforce of highly effective educators

3) Creating educational data systems to support student achievement and

4) Turning around their lowest-performing schools

U.S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan is set to reserve up to $350 million out of the $4,350,000 set aside for the program in efforts to help states create assessments that are in compliance with common sets of standards. The other $4 billion will be given the Race to the Top national competition.

The final application released today, is a result of significant changes made to an earlier application released in July 2009. ED made the changes after receiving responses to the draft proposals from 1,161 people, who submitted unique comments.

For more information about the Race to the Top Fund, visit: http://www.ed.gov/programs/racetothetop/funding.html and let NSSEA know your thoughts.

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