AUGUSTA, Maine — For the fifth year in a row, Maine will be one of 10 states to receive federal money to turn around its “persistently lowest-achieving schools,” the U.S. Department of Education announced on Thursday.
Maine will receive $1.7 million of the $95 million School Improvement Grant funds. The money goes to schools in which students show low achievement and progress on standardized tests over a three-year period.
Maine schools will be able to apply for all or part of the grant if they agree to undergo a significant overhaul. Schools could opt to replace the principal and reform the curriculum, or close the school and send all the students to a higher performing school in the district, among other dramatic courses of action.
“It comes with some strings and they’re some pretty serious strings,” said Rachelle Tome, chief academic officer at the Maine Department of Education. “Part of the federal perspective is that the principal is the captain of the ship. If the ship is going aground, then maybe you need a new captain.”
Most likely, only one or two schools will benefit from this money, according to Samantha Warren, the Maine Department of Education communications director. Schools that have not received the grant in the past and have either a graduation rate that is less than 60 percent or make the least amount of progress in the state in reading and math tests and are therefore designated “priority” schools will be eligible to apply.
Another 35 schools have been designated “focus” schools, meaning there is a wide gap between the highest and lowest performing students.
“Priority” and “focus” schools work with a DOE specialist to identify and fix problems. The schools might need to focus on educating students with disabilities, or improve school climate, among other possible fixes, Tome said.
These categories are a result of a waiver that the state received last year from the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, formerly known as No Child Left Behind, a 2001 federal law that demanded all public school students would be proficient in reading and math by 2014. Maine was the 40th state to receive the waiver, preventing it from receiving sanctions as a result of not meeting the standard.
These categories apply only to schools that receive Title 1 funds as part of a federal program that is directed at students from low-income families. Of Maine’s 585 schools, 372 receive Title 1 funding. Before Maine was granted the waiver and No Child Left Behind was still in effect, schools were designated as meeting adequate yearly progress or not. Schools that were not got extra support from the DOE.
A handful of lower performing schools have been working with School Improvement Grant money since Maine schools started receiving the grant in 2009. Montello Elementary School in Lewiston received a $1.8 million grant last year. Other schools that have received the grant in the past are Ellsworth High School, the Riverton School in Portland and the Governor James B. Longley School in Lewiston.