New SIG cohort set to advance

New SIG cohort set to advance

(Calif.) The first steps in qualifying a new group of California’s lowest performing schools for additional federal aid won passage last week from the state board of education.

California is expected to receive $57 million in School Improvement Grant funding for a third cohort to participate – selection of which will likely take place in early spring.

A signature program of the Obama administration, the SIG funds are available to any local educational agency or charter that receives Title I money and meets a needs criteria established by the California State Board of Education three years ago.

Following federal guidelines, SIG funding priority must be given to the lowest-achieving five percent of Title I schools among all schools assigned to program improvement or corrective action – such schools are designated as Tier I schools. A second priority are equally low-achieving secondary schools (both middle and high schools) in the state that are eligible for, but do not receive, Title I funds - the Tier II schools.

Although the program predates the Obama administration, the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act included $3.5 billion for helping the nation's persistently low-achieving schools, and the president has used the program to encourage key parts of his education agenda.

As a condition of getting the money, schools are required to undertake one of four aggressive restructuring models that could include replacing most of the staff or reopening as a charter. Another requirement, that many states including California have received a waiver to more slowly implement, is to establish new teacher evaluations tools.

Under the 2014 cohort, schools can expect to receive between $50,000 and $2 million for each year of eligibility.

California’s SIG program ran into problems three years ago when federal auditors discovered that many early participating schools were not spending the money. Further, only a handful of the districts that had accepted the funds were following through with required restructuring.

As a result, state officials were forced to put the program into hiatus until better enforcement procedures were established and clarifying guidance prepared.

Under the new state rules, districts interested in receiving SIG funds must submit an application to the California Department of Education. Application documents are expected to be ready by the end of this month with a deadline for submission of March 14.

The state board is scheduled to consider the list of applicants at its May meeting with funding for winning schools set for the beginning of the 2014-15 school year.

CDE officials have been careful to point out that participating districts must be ready to begin carrying out restructuring at the beginning of the 2014-15 school year.

The restructuring models are:

  • replacing the school principal and at least 50 percent of the staff;
  • closing the school and reopening under new charter management;
  • closing the school completely and sending students to other, better achieving schools;
  •  the transformation model, which requires among other things, replacing the principal, using test scores to evaluate teacher and administrator performance, and expanding the school day, school week or school year to increase learning time.

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