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State issues guidelines for district Race to the Top spending

As school districts and charter schools prepare their proposals for spending their share of nearly $700 million in Race to the Top spoils, state officials are giving guidance about how they should use the money.

School districts have until November to create their plans for using the federal funds. On Monday, State Education Commissioner David Steiner and Deputy Commissioner John King held a videoconference with superintendents and school administrators around the state to help them begin to plan.

(Watch Steiner and King’s presentation and see the accompanying slides here.)

The state education department will keep half of the Race to the Top winnings; the other half will be distributed among participating school districts and charter schools according to the federal Title I formula, King said.

Some districts will have very little leeway in how they spend their share. All districts must use 25 percent of their funds to develop teacher and principal evaluations, and districts can’t access that money until they strike a deal with their local teachers union on the new evaluations’ local assessments.

Many districts will also be required to spend much of the remaining 75 percent of their funds to build new “network teams” designed to help groups of schools adopt the new curriculum, tests and data systems the state is building.

Some districts already have similar school support networks. One of those is New York City, where the idea was first introduced. These districts will need to prove to the state that they already have the teams in place. Once they do, they are free to spend that portion of their funds in a variety of other ways laid out by the state. Alternative uses of the funds include providing bonuses for teachers deemed “highly effective” under the new evaluations, extra coaching for teachers deemed ineffective, or to help turn around the district’s lowest-performing schools.

Administrators, teachers and students will likely see concrete changes as a result of Race to the Top years, not months, from now. King said that he expects districts to spend just 15 percent or less of their funds in the first year.

One administrator asked how soon the state would introduce its new data systems. (“Tomorrow,” Steiner jokingly answered.) King explained that the data system will be built gradually over the course of the four-year grant. The early-warning component, designed to alert schools when a student’s grades or attendance record suggest he is at risk of dropping out, will be one of the earlier stages. A system that makes connections between students’ test scores and their teachers will come much later.

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