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Supporting Chronically Failing Schools

The line item needs an FY 2011 appropriation of $900 million to fulfill the president’s request for this program and should provide the Department of Education the authority to implement the grants toward the four ARRA turnaround models.

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The president’s fiscal year 2011 budget request includes $900 million in school improvement grants or school turnaround grants. These grants are modeled after ARRA and consistent with the current ESEA statute, and they would primarily be targeted to schools that demonstrate the greatest need for such dollars and the utmost commitment to using such dollars wisely. In the president’s budget, schools with the greatest need are defined as those identified in the bottom 5 percent in academic performance in each state.

Schools have been able to use school improvement dollars in the past for a variety of activities with the assumption that these actions would improve school performance. In some cases, schools have witnessed positive outcomes, but this is not the norm.  Therefore, it makes sense that eligible school districts, under the president’s proposal, must commit to using one of ARRA’s four turnaround models—turnaround, restart, school closure, and the transformation model—for their lowest-achieving schools. This will ensure that states and districts are committed to using federal dollars for reforms that are likely to improve outcomes. Using limited federal dollars most effectively is particularly important in these challenging economic times.

Even if ESEA is not reauthorized this year, there is existing authority in ESEA-No Child Left Behind and an appropriations line item for school improvement grants in previous Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education appropriations bills. The line item needs an FY 2011 appropriation of $900 million to fulfill the president’s request for this program and should provide the Department of Education the authority to implement  the grants toward the four ARRA turnaround models.

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