Education Secretary Arne Duncan today told a leading think tank that the Obama administration is changing the federal Title I program to aggressively drive reform in schools that need it the most.
Through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) and the proposed 2010 budget, the administration is shifting billions of dollars into the Title I School Improvement Fund (SIF), which allows for bold strategies to help turn around underperforming schools and advance other key reforms.
The $13 billion for Title I under the ARRA includes $10 billion that is distributed by formula to schools with significant low-income populations and $3 billion for the SIF. The proposed 2010 budget also includes $1.5 billion for the SIF -- almost triple the amount in the SIF in the 2009 budget, not including ARRA.
Speaking at the Brookings Institution in Washington, Duncan said, "Title I was set up to correct funding inequities -- and that is important. But it really should be more focused on correcting educational inequities."
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The administration is also using the transparency requirements under the ARRA State Fiscal Stabilization Fund to challenge states and districts to turn around low-performing schools using Title I dollars. Specifically, states must identify the bottom five percent of their schools and report on how many have undergone reconstitution.
"When a school is chronically under-performing despite additional supports and other strategies, you have to consider bolder action, whether it's changing the leadership, hiring a new staff or turning schools over to charter operators. We want to know which states have done this and if not, why not. Kids only have one chance for an education," Duncan said.
Duncan also said that states applying for the Race to the Top funds will have to show how they are using Title I dollars to advance reforms. The Race to the Top fund includes $4.35 billion dollars in discretionary grants. A separate Innovation What Works Fund includes $650 million for districts and non-profits that are pushing reform.
"With Race to the Top, there is real money on the table for states and districts that are creatively and aggressively driving reform. The successful districts will be using every available dollar to raise standards, improve teacher quality, and turn around struggling schools. We have neither time nor money to waste," Duncan said.
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Duncan said that if the nation's educators could turn around 1,000 schools per year - approximately 1 percent of the total -- for five years in a row, "We could really move the needle, lift the bottom and change the lives of tens of millions of underserved children."