School Improvement Grants Help Districts

Date: January 28, 2010


Ron Tomalis is director of Dutko Worldwide, the Washington, D.C.-based global public policy management firm. Tomalis specializes in education, and has held various senior management, policy, and operational positions in state and federal government. He served as counselor to the United States Secretary of Education, Acting Assistant Secretary of Elementary and Secondary Education, and Executive Deputy Secretary of Education for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

The U.S. Department of Education recently announced an expanded effort – and increased funding – to address the severe problem of high schools with chronically low graduation rates. The federal School Improvement Grant program provides more than $3.5 billion dollars to school districts to target innovative programs that reduce dropout rates and provide credit recovery opportunities to at-risk students.

Traditionally, states and school districts had great flexibility in how to target these funds to any Title I school identified as “needing improvement” under the Elementary and Secondary Act (ESEA). With new regulations announced in December 2009, the U.S. DOE is requiring states and LEAs to focus the resources on the lowest-performing Title I schools in the state, and to include in their targeting high schools that have graduation rates lower than 60 percent. Under these regulations, districts will now be able to utilize their School Improvement Grants to fund programs such as Ombudsman to offer dropout prevention opportunities to their students.

The U.S. DOE has also changed the way the money is distributed to the districts. While, as in the past, all School Improvement funds will flow from the federal government to the states via formula, states must now hold a competitive grant competition among schools districts with qualifying schools and award the grants only to districts that utilize the reform strategies required in the regulations. Each eligible school will receive a multi-year grant of anywhere from $50,000 – $2 million per year. So as funding becomes available later this spring, districts should look at this expanded funding source as an opportunity to addressing its dropout problems and offer a second opportunity to its students to succeed.

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