MSMA: State goes after stimulus funds and Race to the Top grant

Maine School Management Association


Dec. 16, 2009

State goes after stimulus funds and Race to the Top grant

The state Department of Education is in the process of working on two applications for federal money – the second round of State Fiscal Stabilization Funds (SFSF) designed to help public schools make it through the recession and the competitive Race to the Top grant program designed to push educational reform.

Successful completion of the Phase II SFSF application – due Jan. 11, 2010 – will make sure Maine can continue to access $43 million in federal stimulus money promised to it this fiscal year and another $59 million next year.

Gov. John Baldacci has said the state also will apply for a chunk of the $4.3 billion that will be distributed through the Race to the Top program – a competitive grant that will be awarded to an estimated 15 to 20 states based on how well they score on the application form. The state will be applying during the second round of grant funding, with applications due on June 1, 2010.

State Fiscal Stabilization Funds and Race to the Top are being funded through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The Obama administration also has earmarked $3.5 billion in ARRA funds for Title I School Improvement Grants to turn around failing schools. Another $650 million has been earmarked for Investing in Innovation grants that would be awarded directly to local school districts and nonprofit organization working with districts. More information can be found at


Fiscal Stabilization Funding

The so-called Phase II application for SFSF requires states to collect information on how they’re doing in the four areas identified by the Obama administration as critical for school improvement. It requires states to share that information with the public by posting it on a website no later than Sept. 30, 2011.

The four areas are: making improvements in teacher effectiveness and achieving equity in teacher distribution; improving collection and use of data; adopting rigorous standards and assessments; and, supporting struggling schools.

The state DOE is in the process of collecting information in those core areas and is asking superintendents to complete an online data survey on teacher quality and effectiveness.  It is essential that school districts respond to these surveys to assure that federal stabilization funds continue to flow.

States are not required to make other changes to be eligible for funding, like linking teacher evaluations to student achievement or adopting standards.

“No. In SFSF you do not need to be able to link,” said Ann Whalen of U.S. Department of Education, who has been working with groups like the American Association of School Administrators to answer questions about the Phase II application.

“It’s literally a yes or no answer,” on the questions asked in the application, she said. “It’s no change to your system to do this.”

The only prescriptive part of the application is the requirement that states outline and implement plans for gathering the requested information and make that information public on a website no later than Sept. 30, 2011.  Federal guidelines also require states to create a longitudinal data system that will track students throughout their public education showing how they are doing on required statewide tests; courses taken and grades achieved; and, eventually their success in college or work.

The idea is that when the public understands better what is happening in their schools, they will put pressure on for appropriate improvements.

“For the purposes of this program, the data and information are largely intended for public use, rather than for Federal reporting. Individual states and communities have the greatest power to hold their LEAs (Local Education Agency/school district) and schools accountable for the reforms that are in the best interest of their students,” according to the U.S. Department of Education rules released last month.

The State Fiscal Stabilization Fund already has distributed $36 billion to states and will release the remaining $11 billion through the Phase II application process. Maine spent $27 million of its share of the money last fiscal year and is scheduled to spend $43 million in this fiscal year and just under $59 million next fiscal year.


Race to the Top

The Race to the Top is different in that it requires states to compete for the $4.3 billion available under the program.  Federal guidelines say grants will:

“Reward States that are creating the conditions for education innovation and reform; achieving significant improvement in student outcomes, including making substantial gains in student achievement, closing achievement gaps, improving high school graduation rates, and ensuring student preparation for success in college and careers; and implementing ambitious plans in the (the) four core education reform areas.”

Some of the more contentious areas will be the criteria around “Great Teachers and Leaders” that wants teachers and principals to be evaluated annually, with those evaluations based, in part, on student achievement.

There also is criteria around “Standards and Assessments” that calls for states to adopt a common set of K-12 standards that are shared by a significant number of other states and are internationally benchmarked. Maine has been working for more than a decade on adopting its own set of standards tied to the Learning Results.

Education Commissioner Susan Gendron says law and rule changes will be needed in order for the state to apply for Race to the Top, including repealing a section of education statute regarding teacher evaluations that says:

“The student assessment program is separate from local practices and procedures regarding supervision and evaluation of a teacher for retention by a school administrative unit.” (Title  20-A, Section 6204, paragraph 3.)

Under Race to the Top rules, states cannot even apply for a grant if they have “any legal, statutory or regulatory barriers at the State level to linking data on student achievement or student growth to teachers and principals for the purpose of teacher and principal evaluations.”

Applications will be scored on a point system that includes:

  1. State Success Factors worth 125 points

1.      Articulating State’s education reform agenda and LEA’s participation in it

a)      Articulating comprehensive, coherent reform agenda – 5 points

b)      Securing LEA commitment – 45 points

c)      Translating LEA participation into statewide impact – 15 points

2.      Building strong statewide capacity to implement, scale up and sustain proposed plans

a)      Ensuring the capacity to implement – 20 points

b)      Using broad stakeholder support – 10 points

3.      Demonstrating significant progress in raising achievement and closing gaps

a)      Making progress in each reform area – 5 points

b)      Improving student outcomes – 25 points

  1. Standards and Assessments worth 70 points

1.      Developing and adopting common standards

a)      Participating in consortium developing high-quality standards – 20 points

b)      Adopting standards – 20 points

2.      Developing and implementing common, high-quality assessments – 10 points

3.      Supporting the transition to enhanced standards and high quality assessments – 20 points

  1. Data Systems to Support Instruction worth 47 points

1.      Fully implementing a statewide longitudinal data system – 24 points

2.      Accessing and using state data – 5 points

3.      Using data to improve instruction – 18 points

  1. Great Teachers and Leaders worth 138 points

1.      Providing high-quality pathways for aspiring teachers and principals – 21 points

2.      Improving teacher and principal effectiveness based on performance

a)      Measuring student growth – 5 points

b)      Developing evaluation systems – 15 points

c)      Conducting annual evaluations – 10 points

d)     Using evaluations to inform key decisions – 28 points

3.      Ensuring equitable distribution of effective teachers and principals

a)      Ensuring equitable distribution in high-poverty or high-minority schools – 15 points

b)      Ensuring equitable distribution in hard-to-staff subjects and specialty areas – 10 points

4.      Improving the effectiveness of teacher and principal preparation programs – 14 points

5.      Providing effective support to teachers and principals – 20 points

  1. Turning Around the Lowest-Achieving Schools worth 50 points

1.      Intervening in the lowest-achieving schools and LEAs – 10 points

2.      Turning around the lowest-achieving schools

a)      Identifying the persistently lowest-achieving schools – 5 points

b)      Turning around the persistently lowest-achieving schools – 35 points

  1. General worth 70 points

1.      Making education funding a priority – 10 points

2.      Ensuring successful conditions for high-performing charter schools and other innovative schools – 40 points

3.      Demonstrating other significant reform conditions – 5 points

4.      Emphasis on STEM – 15 points