27 May School Board Applies for Federal Grant Money (FL)

May 27, 2010

By: Kara Phelps
Source: News Chief

The Polk County School Board has decided to compete for the federal Race to the Top education grant, signing the paperwork on Tuesday, the deadline for districts to apply.

They skipped the first round of the grant, but this time, they said they thought the new demands will be easier to carry out.

Florida pursued a cut of the $4.35 billion involved in President Barack Obama’s Race to the Top program earlier this year. But it finished fourth in the first round, after Delaware, Tennessee and Georgia.

In January, Polk was one of several Florida districts to opt out of the application – School Board members said the cost to implement requirements would outstrip the amount of the award, and the teachers’ union opposed a merit pay system it would have instituted.

In the second round, Polk is contending to receive $13.2 million over four years, about $5 million less than was available previously. It is one of 59 districts across Florida who filed their paperwork with the state by Tuesday’s deadline.

Florida must submit its application to the U.S. Department of Education by Tuesday.

If Florida wins the nationwide competition, districts will only have to develop tests for their electives, rather than all subjects, as proposed in the first round. The state will create tests for core classes, which will become a part of teacher evaluations.

D istricts will design their own systems for evaluating teachers, within certain guidelines, using input from principals and teachers.

Superintendent Gail McKinzie, School Board Chairwoman Kay Fields and Polk Education Association President Marianne Capoziello signed paperwork needed to pursue Polk’s portion of the $700 million Florida could receive.

In a work session on Tuesday, Board member Hazel Sellers asked whether the programs implemented for Race to the Top would continue after its funding runs out in four years.

"The biggest concern for districts who sign on to this has been the sustainability piece," McKinzie told the board. "This is not sustainable."

She said Polk will not use any local money on Race to the Top programs.

The U.S. Department of Education is expected to announce finalists for the grant in July, and select the winning state in August or September.

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