Education Secretary Announces $66 Million Awarded to Reform Pennsylvania's Lowest-Achieving Schools

Aug 23, 2011, 13:02 ET from Pennsylvania Department of Education

Tomalis calls out eligible schools that failed to apply; those with subpar applications

HARRISBURG, Pa., Aug. 23, 2011 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Secretary of Education Ron Tomalis today announced the award of $66 million in federal School Improvement Grants (SIG) to 26 of Pennsylvania's lowest-performing schools – representing only a fraction of schools eligible for the funds.

"The purpose of these grants is to fund innovative educational initiatives that recognize the needs of students in failing schools, and work toward providing students with the quality education they deserve," Tomalis said. "While I applaud the leadership in the 26 schools that received funding for taking advantage of an opportunity to reform their schools, I'm disappointed that we received so few applications."

The Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) awarded grants to schools through a competitive application process. The applications were reviewed and scored by a panel of peer reviewers who then made grant award recommendations.

In order for a school to be eligible for funds, it must be among the lowest-achieving schools in Pennsylvania, which have failed to make substantial progress on state assessments or have a graduation rate of less than 60 percent for at least two of the last three years.

While 141 schools met those criteria and were eligible for grants this year, only 40 schools submitted applications.

"There are far too many Pennsylvania students who are trapped in failing schools, and far too many adults who are unwilling to advocate and pursue meaningful change on their behalf," Tomalis said. "I find it extremely disturbing that 71.6 percent of eligible schools chose not to engage in an initiative to improve the educational opportunities for their students."

Of the 40 schools that submitted an application for funding, 18 did not meet the necessary requirements of the grant.

"It's outrageous and embarrassing that educational leaders, who are entrusted with educating our children, would request funding for frivolous expenditures disguised as tools to enhance student achievement," Tomalis said, noting that applications included:

  • Funding requests for substitute teachers over the summer when school is not in session;
  • Funding to hire a summer school director, a summer school assistant and 21 full-time teachers for a school with only 222 students;
  • Funding for the purchase of 450 whiteboards for one school over the course of three years;
  • $70,000 for a sound system in an auditorium;
  • $300,000 per year for teacher leaders with no defined duties;
  • $882,275 for three years' worth of duplicate computer purchases;
  • $975,000 for a swimming pool; and
  • $1.3 million for 2,063 iPads and related equipment.

These schools were given the opportunity to re-write their applications with guidance and recommendations from the peer reviewers. The 17 schools which chose to re-write their applications were again reviewed but only five were deemed fundable.

"There has been significant public outcry from education establishment groups across Pennsylvania regarding the financial strain public education is facing this year," Tomalis said.  "Yet, when an opportunity arises for a group of schools to receive valuable funds, a majority of them were not willing to put the time and effort into submitting quality applications. The sad fact is, even with guidance and recommendations from the department, 12 schools were unable to produce an acceptable application on their second try."    

As part of the competitive application process, eligible schools had to adopt and implement one of four reform models developed by the federal government: Transformation, Turnaround, Restart and School Closure.

If a school chooses to adopt the Transformation Model, teachers and principals must be assessed using a rigorous, transparent and equitable evaluation system. Staff must also participate in high-quality professional development and be involved in curriculum design and development.

The Turnaround Model involves the "turn around" of schools through the implementation of nine broad strategies, including changing the school leadership, replacing at least 50 percent of the staff, requiring high-quality professional development and the adoption of new governance.

The Restart Model enables a district to choose between re-opening a school as a charter school or have an education management organization take over operations.

The School Closure Model allows a district to transfer students out of the low-performing school and into higher-achieving schools within the district's boundaries. The 2009-10 school year was the first time SIG was made available as a competitive grant to schools through funding from the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Last year, $102 million was distributed in SIG to 58 schools statewide.

"While we applaud those who are working on innovative practices, we must remain cognizant of the fact that students do not have the luxury to wait for years until their school improves," Tomalis said. "School district leaders must be held accountable for failing to meet the needs of their students."

Media contact:  Tim Eller, 717-783-9802

Editor's note: Below is the list of grantees, the reform model that will be implemented and the total three-year award amount:

Allentown City School District
South Mountain Middle School, Transformation, $3 million

Big Beaver Falls Area School District
Beaver Falls High School, Transformation, $3 million

Erie City School District
East High School, Transformation, $4.5 million
Strong Vincent High School, Transformation, $3 million

Hardy Williams Charter School
Hardy Williams Charter School Renaissance Advantage Charter School, Restart, $4,337,647

Harrisburg City School District
Camp Curtin, Transformation, $2,303,237
Foose School, Transformation, $2,208,251
Harrisburg High School, Transformation, $2,910,514
Rowland School, Transformation, $2,499,430
Scott School Early Childhood Center, Transformation, $2,034,887

Highlands School District
Highlands High School, Transformation, $1,294,268

La Academia Charter School
La Academia Charter School, Transformation, $423,234

Lancaster School District
Price Elementary School, Transformation, $1,011,000
Wheatland Middle School, Transformation, $3,320,516

New Hope Academy Charter School
New Hope Academy Charter School, Transformation, $1,686,228

Norristown Area School District
Norristown Area High School, Transformation, $3,070,499

People for People Charter School
People for People Charter School, Transformation, $2,966,000

Philadelphia School District*
*Funding subject to change
John Barry Elementary School, Turnaround, $1,944,171
Horace Furness High School, Transformation, $1,471,653
William D. Kelley School, Transformation, $1,702,928
Olney High School East, Restart, $5,384,040
Penn Treaty Middle School, Transformation, $3 million

Pittsburgh School District
Pittsburgh Faison PreK-8, Turnaround, $1,296,000

Upper Darby School District
Charles Kelly Elementary School, Transformation, $1,199,340
Upper Darby High School, Transformation, $4,305,825

Williamsport Area School District
Williamsport Area High School, Transformation, $2,136,051

SOURCE Pennsylvania Department of Education