State to get $47 million to aid troubled schools

March 27, 2010|By Childs Walker | childs.walker@baltsun.com

Maryland will receive $47 million in federal stimulus money to help persistently struggling schools, most of which are in Baltimore, the U.S. Department of Education announced Friday.

The funds, contingent on substantial restructuring at the schools that receive them, "will go right where we need them most," said Bill Reinhard, spokesman for the Maryland State Department of Education.

Baltimore expects to receive about $30 million over three years and plans to use it on eight schools, said Laura Weeldreyer, the system's deputy chief of staff. The schools will be turned over to nonprofit operators or overhauled through staff changes, with specifics to be announced at an April 13 school board meeting.

"Eight schools is the number we think we can affect dramatically with this infusion of money," Weeldreyer said. "This is great news for us."

Maryland is one of the first seven states to receive the School Improvement Grants, which are separate from the more publicized Race to the Top program but part of the same $3.5 billion stimulus commitment to state school systems.

"When a school continues to perform in the bottom 5 percent of the state and isn't showing signs of growth or has graduation rates below 60 percent, something dramatic needs to be done," said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan in a statement. "Turning around our worst-performing schools is difficult for everyone, but it is critical that we ... do the right thing by kids."

Once the state receives the money this spring, local districts will be eligible to apply for it in chunks of $500,000 to $2 million per school for up to three years. They should be able to use the funds by summer, Reinhard said.

Of the 72 eligible schools listed in the state's application for the grant, 54 are in Baltimore. Of the remaining schools, two are in Baltimore County, two on the Eastern Shore and 14 in Prince George's County. The schools are prioritized by tiers, with those that have struggled most to implement corrective action most likely to receive grant money.

The five highest-priority targets are Booker T. Washington Middle, Calverton Elementary/Middle, Garrison Middle, Chinquapin Middle and William C. March Middle, all located in Baltimore. Another 11 schools in the city and Prince George's County are in the second tier.

Those 16 schools are likely to receive most or all of the funding, with the 56 third-tier schools eligible to apply for any money that's left.

"From this pot, if I only had tier-three schools, I would not count on getting these funds," said Ann Chafin, the state's assistant superintendent for student, family and school support.

Schools that accept the money will have to adopt one of four federally approved approaches, which include restarting as a charter school, replacing the principal and more than half the staff, and outright closure. Chafin said that based on preliminary talks with the affected systems, she thinks most eligible schools will adopt one of the restructuring plans.

Weeldreyer said the city will be less likely to give money to schools that are already showing signs of improvement. "We're looking for who doesn't have a plan and who needs the help," she said.

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