Center for American Progress

RELEASE: States Make School Improvement Dollars Harder to Obtain
Press Release

RELEASE: States Make School Improvement Dollars Harder to Obtain

Washington, D.C. — Today the Center for American Progress released a new report documenting the growing trend among states to make school improvement funds more competitive. The report found that states changed the way they allocate federal dollars to low-performing schools and districts in 2009, in response to a shift in federal policy. That change led to greater targeting of funds to schools with the greatest need and greatest commitment to turn around.

“Sometimes it’s wise to make it harder for schools to get extra money,” said Cynthia G. Brown, Vice President for Education Policy at the Center for American Progress. “Competitive programs target funds to those schools ready to reform, and it can encourage reforms in those schools that need to.”

The report was released at a CAP Action event headlined by Congressman George Miller (D-CA), senior Democrat on the House Education & the Workforce Committee. The event explored how federal policy impacts the accountability and school improvement systems of states and school districts.

In “Competing for School Improvement Dollars: State Grant-Making Strategies,” author Melissa Lazarín outlines a significant change to the federal School Improvement Grant program that took place in 2009. The Obama administration required states to award school improvement dollars to districts on a competitive basis. States responded by making their grant process more rigorous and selective. At the same time they provided greater technical assistance and support to school districts so the districts were in a better position to compete. In the end state officials reported that federal funds have aided low-performing schools and that the 2009 shift positively changed the way they interact with school districts.

“At a time when some claim the federal government does little good, our report found that federal policy led to a positive change in state practice,” said Brown. “Competitive programs are not a panacea, nor should they replace formula-funded programs. But competitive programs are a way to make sure taxpayer dollars are spent more wisely and efficiently.”

Read the report:

To speak with a CAP expert on this topic, please contact Katie Peters at or 202.741.6285.