State wins $500 million in federal funds

Tennessee will receive $500 million in federal Race to the Top funds.

The United States Department of Education announced Monday that Tennessee has been selected as a winner of the Race to the Top funding program.

Tennessee will receive a grant of approximately $500 million in federal funding to implement reforms and turn around underperforming schools.

Estimates show that over four years, Blount County Schools could get as much as $1.9 million, Alcoa City Schools could receive $220,000 and Maryville City Schools could get $400,000.

Forty states and the District of Columbia submitted proposals for RTTT funding in January. The Department of Education rated each state based on its ability to adopt challenging standards that prepare students for college and their careers, adequately measure student achievement and inform faculty of the best way to improve teaching methods, recruit and retain the best teachers, and turn around the lowest performing schools.

The Department of Education awarded additional points to applications that highlighted effective management of student data, emphasis on science and math education, and strong partnerships with universities and private firms.

Tennessee and Delaware were the only two states to be awarded funding in the first round of the application process.

Alcoa City Schools director Tom Shamblin said the state would probably begin getting the funds beginning in the 2011 school year. “We’re probably a year way from getting any of that money,” he said.

Shamblin said these funds can not be used to solve recurring expense budget problems many school systems are dealing with now. “I can tell you this, that money can not be used for that. There is a perception that Tennessee’s education problems are solved because of this money but it can not be used for general purpose items, so we’re still trying to meet those needs,” he said.

Shamblin said the Alcoa system is considering how any money they could get would be allocated. “We’re not just sitting by waiting but we know there will be a lot more details coming very soon as to what the next steps are as far as us trying to get our share of it,” he said. “We have been told Alcoa City Schools should get about $55,000 a year for four years.”

Shamblin said he was at a superintendents’ meeting and got a handout that showed what Alcoa City Schools would get if they chose to apply. “There will be lot of record keeping required if we should to accept that money,” he said.

Stephanie Thompson, director of Maryville City Schools, said preliminary calculations are that the system would get $400,000 spread over four years. “It would be about $100,000 per year. We’ll have to submit a plan that reflects what the goals of the grant are and right now we have not seen template or requirement for a plan,” she said.

Rob Britt, director of Blount County Schools, congratulated Tim Webb, commissioner of education, and everyone else involved in the application process. “First of all I’m delighted the State of Tennessee was awarded the money. It is very unclear to me just exactly the amount we could get,” he said.

Britt said he had seen an estimate that Blount County Schools could get $1.9 million over four years, which would equate to about $500,000 a year. “But that’s all preliminary and not definite yet,” he said. “The other thing more ambiguous is what the parameters are on that money. I’ll be looking for how much are we going to get what are we allowed to us it for.”

Holden Lail, a Blount County commissioner, a former Blount County schools principal and a school improvement consultant with Edvantia, said Dr. Robert Greene, head of accounting for the State Department of Education, recently explained how the funds would be used if Tennessee got any money. “It is not like there is going to be a load of money dropped in on Blount County. It will not replace any local budget efforts,” he said. “This would not suppliant local budget efforts. “It will be above and beyond budgets and we’ll be competing with all the other systems.”

Lail said that according to Greene, approximately half the money will remain in Nashville for designated programs they will determine as they look at the needs assessments across the state. “Some federal funds always come earmarked for specific kinds of processes. There will be so much for capital outlay – bricks and mortar and repairs. There will be some for professional development and training, some will be for programs,” he said.

Lail said the money will be allocated over four years. “That’s approximately $125 million per year and from that, anything over four years has to have a memorandum of understanding with the funding body of that district to continue that program,” he said. “Typically it is not for reoccurring expenses such as personnel.”

Thompson said 50 percent of the total funds are allocated based on free and reduced lunches each system has. “That’s 50 percent of that $500 million,” she said.

“Their use of that money from the state level will be based on an as needed basis and determined by the folks in Nashville,” Lail said. “Right now off the top, the school systems that will probably come out ahead would be Nashville, Chattanooga, Memphis and Knoxville. They have a heavier concentration of these kids in the poverty level.

Lail said part of the other half would probably be designated through a competitive process and certain amounts would be designated to be spent a certain way – meaning a certain amount would have to go toward training, a certain part for capital outlay loans. “I don’t know the breakdown, but it will be very specific,” he said.

Thompson said some of the funds will be focused on under performing schools and school systems where they will provide intensive assistance for those school systems.

“There also will be money for testing, assessment of students and possibly money for STEM projects – science, technology, engineering and math,” she said. “There’s a wide variety of things included in the application.”

Blount Education Initiative lauds state efforts to Race to the Top

The Blount Education Initiative praised Tennessee state leaders for their successful efforts in securing $500 million in federal “Race to the Top” education funds, provided through a competitive process among states managed by the U.S. Department of Education. The funds exist as part of President Obama’s economic stimulus law, with some $100 billion total allocated for schools nationwide.

“The impact of recent grassroots, community-driven voices loudly calling to improve education in our state can now be quantified with results that Tennessee can take to the bank,” said BEI Executive Director Bonny Millard.

“Tennesseans are getting serious about education reform,” Millard said. “The grassroots level has urged our state lawmakers and executive branch to reach for higher ground – and they’ve delivered. Today’s results provide an incredible shot in the arm toward improvements that our students and school systems will experience first-hand.”

BEI joined with statewide education-reform group – Sen. Bill Frist’s Tennessee State Collaborative on Reforming Education (SCORE) – in lauding the state’s elected officials for supporting Tennessee’s bid to secure the $500 million, including Governor Phil Bredesen and Blount County’s Sen. Doug Overbey, Rep. Joe McCord and Rep. Bob Ramsey.

BEI and SCORE have encouraged local citizens and businesses to continue voicing support for education clearly and actively, through involvement in the school systems as well as through outreach to elected officials.

“BEI is funded by local businesses to promote community awareness and engagement about educational issues,” said BEI president Matt Murray. “As in any great democracy, the people are the real drivers of change. BEI is proud to serve as an organizing force behind this community’s advocacy for education, which is so critical toward securing economic development and future jobs.”

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