Schools staying put on Race to the Top applications

Locally, only D-200 considers applying for federal school grants

The majority of school districts in McHenry County and the state have passed on the opportunity to compete for $120 million in grants recently made available by the Obama administration’s Race to the Top initiative.

Beginning in 2009, Race to the Top encouraged school districts across the country to compete for $4.35 billion in federal stimulus money and enact education reforms such as performance-based teacher evaluations and projects to turn around poorly performing schools.

Last month, the U.S. Department of Education announced a Race to the Top-District
competition that would disburse $120 million to districts that demonstrate bold ideas to enhance classrooms and the relationship between teachers and students.

But in McHenry County, many districts either don’t meet the eligibility requirements or don’t want to invest the time and money to win a competition with unfavorable odds.

“There are so many strings attached with Race to the Top money that school districts don’t want to take it on,” Regional Superintendent of Schools Leslie Schermerhorn said. “It would require so much extra work, and I think districts often don’t see the results from that program.”

The 439 applicants who already have submitted their intent to apply for the $120 million face steep competition. Only five to 10 applicants are expected to receive awards, which could range from $4 million to $30 million each, the Department of Education has said.

In Illinois, only 10 school districts, including Woodstock District 200, have signified their intentions. District 200 officials declined to comment on their plans for the federal money and whether they will officially submit an application by the Oct. 3 deadline.

If district officials do follow through, they will have to outline plans on how to accelerate student achievement, better meet individual student needs and enhance learning environments that are aligned with college-and-career-ready standards, according to the education department.

To qualify for the newest Race to the Top competition, districts generally must educate a minimum of 2,000 total students with at least 40 percent of students from low-income families.

Officials at Huntley District 158 often look for grant opportunities but didn’t consider the Race to the Top competition because of the eligibility requirements, Chief Academic Officer Mike Moan said.

“For us, it was a nonstarter,” Moan said. “We often don’t qualify because our low-income population is not even close.”

Aside from the eligibility issue, McHenry District 156 didn’t entertain pursuing the competition since the application process often requires too much time and manpower.

“You can put a lot of time and effort in writing grants, but you could be nowhere near their radar because they could be dealing with schools with more need,” said Brent Raby, district director of curriculum and instruction.

About Race to the Top

Race to the Top-District competition is intended to support bold, locally driven improvements in learning and teaching that will directly improve student achievement and educator effectiveness.

Nationwide, 439 schools submitted intentions to apply Aug. 23 for the competition’s $120 million in federal funding.

In Illinois, 10 Illinois school districts submitted:

• Chicago Public Schools

• East St. Louis School District

• Evanston/Skokie CCSD 65

• Horizon Science Academy McKinley

• Matteson SD 162

• Rockford Public Schools

• Round Lake District 116

• Sandoval District 501

• Urbana District 116

• Woodstock District 200

Source: U.S. Department of Education

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