After barely getting a "C" in the first round of the Race to the Top competition, the state hopes to get a better grade and win millions of federal dollars with a revised application strengthened by the state's new school reform legislation.
After ranking 25th among 41 applicants in March, Connecticut has been working hard to improve its application in an effort to win $175 million in the intense national competition. Only two states, Tennessee and Delaware, won grants in the first round of the $4.3 billion program.
One key difference this time is that Connecticut can now point to the new school reform bill that Gov. M. Jodi Rell is expected to sign this morning that better aligns the state with many of the competition's goals, including better school data systems and linking teacher evaluations to student performance.
The application has also won more support from local school boards because it distributes more money directly to school districts, making it more worthwhile for them to participate in the school reform goals. Under the old application, some towns, such as Suffield, would have received only $33,000 spread out over four years.
"It was just impractical. We heard from some superintendents that it was impossible to do the work for that amount of money," said state Department of Education spokesman Tom Murphy.
The new application proposes to funnel a minimum of $140,000 each to K-12 school districts and $100,000 to K-6 districts.
"I think they made some very good strategic decisions on how to handle some of the money issues," said Robert Rader, executive director of the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education. In addition, he said, many districts believe they will be required to implement many of the proposed reforms eventually when federal funding laws are revised.
The revised application also gives teachers more opportunities for professional development, trains them to use a more sophisticated data system to track student performance, seeks to improve parent involvement and puts more emphasis on science and engineering.
One hundred and thirty teacher unions said they support the application, more than double the number in the first application. Teachers were invited to join a working group of education leaders that crafted the application and the school reform bill, said JohnYrchik, executive director of the Connecticut Teachers Association.
Alex Johnston, executive director of ConnCAN, a school reform advocacy group that was critical of Connecticut's original application, said that the revisions were an improvement, but noted that other states have pushed for more aggressive reforms.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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