*Meanwhile in financially floundering school districts…

My notes from today’s webinar.

This morning, the state is providing a webinar on recently-announced Straight-A Fund grants available for school entities (public/charter schools, private schools, ESCs) in Ohio.  Information about these $250 million grants started trickling in in August with “stay tuned for more information” teasers.

Details of the Fund (According to the Ohio Association for Gifted Children)

Straight A Fund

  • The Straight A Fund, appropriated at $100.0 million in FY14 and $150.0 million in FY15 from lottery funds, is created.
  • The program provides grants to city, local, exempted village, and joint vocational school districts, educational service centers, community schools, STEM schools, college-preparatory boarding schools, individual school buildings, education consortia (which may represent a partnership with other school districts,school buildings, community schools or STEM schools), institutions of higher education, and private entities partnering with one or more of the educational entities identified. If an education consortium applies, the lead applicant must be a school district, school building, community school, or STEM school.
  • The grants must be used to achieve one or more of the following goals: 1) Student achievement, 2) Spending reduction in 5-year forecast, and/or 3) Utilization of a greater share of resources in the classroom.
  • Grant proposals must include the following:
    • A description of the project for which the applicant is seeking a grant, including a description of how the project will have substantial value and lasting impact.
    • An explanation of how the project will be self-sustaining. If the project will result in increased ongoing spending, the applicant must show how the spending will be offset by verifiable, credible, permanent spending reductions.
    • A description of quantifiable results of the project that can be benchmarked.
  • The grants will be awarded by a nine-member governing board and are capped at $5 million per fiscal year for individual grant awards and $15 million per fiscal year for awards to consortia unless approved by the Controlling Board to exceed these caps. All grants must be approved by Controlling Board and grant advisors must be selected.
  • An advisory committee to annually review the program and provide advice will consist of 11 members appointed by the Governor.
    • The following earmarks are included out of the Straight A fund appropriation:
    • Up to $250,000 in each fiscal year for the purpose of providing grants to Promise Neighborhood programs for administrative costs associated with the program.
    • Up to $70,000 in each fiscal year for Kids Unlimited of Toledo for after-school tutoring and mentoring programs in two elementary schools.
    • Up to $6.0 million in FY14 for the Cleveland Municipal School District for the purpose of implementing provisions of HB 525 of the 129thGeneral Assembly.
    • Up to $5.0 million in each fiscal year for transportation funding to low wealth/low density districts (as previously discussed under the “State Support for Schools” section).

Points of Note:

  • Because $500,000 (Promise Neighborhood), $140,000 (Kids Unlimited of Toledo), $6.0 million (Cleveland), and $10.0 million (transportation) have already been earmarked, the grants aren’t really $250 million.  They are actually $233,360,000.  Technically speaking, of course.
  • The governing board has been announced and includes:
    • Dr. Richard A. Ross, Superintendent of Public Instruction, Ohio Department of Education
    • Representative Gerald Stebelton, Ohio House of Representatives (Republican; appointed by Governor Kasich)
    • Colleen Grady, Education Policy Advisor at the Ohio House of Representatives (Appointed by Governor Kasich; see here for details about her connectedness with charter schools)
    • Alex Fischer, President and CEO of the Columbus Partnership (Previously worked at Battelle)
    • Kristina Phillips-Schwartz, Director of Education Initiatives at the Cincinnati Business Committee.
    • Superintendent John Scheu, Sidney City School District

Today I sit in my office and think about all of the amazing and wonderful things our district could do with just a piece of that money.  We have innovative ideas that could save show significant cost savings to our district over time.  We have teachers who are ready to try teaching in ways that are new and different and will engage our kids, subsequently improving student achievement.  There are so many things we could do…

Then I remember there are administrators and teachers across the state who are thinking that exact same thing, and I wonder…is this just one more way to pit us all against each other?  At a time when we need to collaborate and share more than just services (one potential element of the grant) to weed our way through all these mandates, isn’t it counteractive to put us in competition with each other for money from Ohio’s lottery funds that should rightfully be put into Ohio’s public education system in the first place?

It has crossed my mind several times to not tweet about or blog about these funds.  Why?  Because it increases the competition.  If it’s crossed my mind, it’s crossed many minds.  And aren’t we in an age when we need to have to share information, tools, resources, to make real improvements in education?

I’m finding it hard not to be cynical about this grant, but I hope it does spawn some real innovation in Ohio’s traditional public schools.  I agree with the sentiment from Join the Future:

We remain skeptical that any lasting impact can come from one-time money, and would much rather see the legislature develop an adequate funding model for all schools, and not dog-eat-dog competitions. Districts and their personnel are already strained dealing with many new mandates from the state and the federal government, having to redirect even more resources towards dreaming up grant programs that fit the Straight A Funds very narrow scope is not going to be very beneficial towards the key mission – educating students.

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2 thoughts on “*Meanwhile in financially floundering school districts…

  1. Do the powers that be ever consider how much it costs the districts to pay someone or several people to write grants that they “may” receive? I definitely agree with Join the Future’s assessment.

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    • I know, Jan! I don’t know how districts without curriculum people are making their way through all of this stuff. Granted, it doesn’t take a curriculum person to write the grant application, but in many cases, these are probably the places who will.

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