June 20, 2018
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Maine’s worst schools could get $11M boost

By Christopher Cousins, BDN Staff

AUGUSTA, Maine — President Barack Obama’s initiative to improve the nation’s lowest-performing schools could bring as much as $11 million in federal money to Maine to improve the state’s 10 worst-performing schools.

Maine Department of Education spokesman David Connerty-Marin said Monday the names of those 10 schools will be made public “within the next few weeks.” School performance is measured using a formula that considers reading and math test scores over the past three years and the school’s eligibility for Title 1 funds. Title 1 funds are given to schools that serve students from low-income families.

Maine typically receives less than $2 million a year in federal money, called School Improvement Grants, so the $11 million represents a vast boost in funding.

“There’s a lot of money there for schools that are identified,” said Connerty-Marin.

Obama, in remarks on Monday, pledged $3.5 billion for changes in the country’s lowest-performing schools, plus another $900 million to support what he called School Turnaround Grants.

Much of the $3.5 billion will go to 2,000 mostly big-city high schools that Obama said are responsible for half of the nation’s dropouts, some with graduation rates of less than 60 percent. Connerty-Marin said there are no schools in Maine that meet that dubious criterion. However, Maine’s 10 lowest-achieving schools will re-ceive funding to employ one of four reform models identified by Obama:

The “Turnaround Model,” in which the school district must replace the principal and at least half of its staff, adopt a new governance structure and implement a new curriculum. Connerty-Marin said this model is unlikely in Maine because teachers and administrators here work under collective bargaining agreements.

The “Restart Model,” in which a school district must close and reopen under the management of a charter school or similar organization. Public charter schools are not allowed in Maine, despite repeated attempts over the years that have failed passage in the Maine Legislature.

The “School Closure Model,” in which a district must close a failing school and move its students to other schools in the district. Because most Maine districts have only one high school and few middle and elementary schools, this option wouldn’t work here, said Connerty-Marin.

The “Transformational Model,” in which the school district must train teachers and administrators, implement reform strategies, extend learning time for students and planning time for teachers, and provide flexibility in its schools’ operating procedures.

“For us the transformational model is the most likely,” said Connerty-Marin, who declined to identify any of the 10 Maine schools that are on the lowest-performing list.

The identities of those schools were given to the U.S. Department of Education along with an application for the $11 million in funding, according to a Feb. 2 memo from Maine Education Commissioner Susan Gendron to the state’s superintendents.

Connerty-Marin said setting up a distribution method for this funding is a precursor to the reauthorization of the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which will be considered by Congress in the coming months.

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