State Applies Funding for Schools, Broadband
JEFFERSON CITY — On Wednesday, the state’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) presented its application for nearly $750 million in federal funding to the state Senate Committee on Education. The program, “Race to the Top,” is a federal competitive grant program that will distribute $4.35 billion to states for the purpose of education reform.
Of the $743 million the state has requested, $355 million will go directly to public school districts, Chris Nicastro, DESE Commissioner of Education, said. The bulk of the remainder, about $272 million, is set to pay for providing broadband Internet access to all of the state’s public school districts.
The 299-page application can be read online here.
The grant program is intended to encourage states to adopt standards and assessments that allow students to succeed, to build data systems that track student performance, to recruit and retain the most effective teachers, and to create programs that will help “turn around” lowest-achieving schools.
Interestingly, Nicastro said that the reforms outlined in DESE’s grant application would be put in place regardless of the amount of money awarded to the state.
“We do intend, with or without this grant, to use the work we’ve put in and the application as a framework for redesigning the department itself and for driving educational reform in Missouri over the next decade,” Nicastro said.
She continued, "we do believe the plan will serve as the catalyst to propel Missouri’s public education system into the Top 10, nationally and internationally, and that is our goal.”
Some of the following reforms have been outlined in the application:
- Adopting and implementing cross-state standards for curriculum and testing;
- giving MOBroadbandNow broadband Internet access to all school districts;
- developing web-based teacher quality databases to effectively monitor successful teaching practices;
- evaluating teacher performance based on student performance;
- developing assessment methods at the state level;
- creating teams to intervene quickly in failing schools;
- and, allowing the state education board to close failing charter schools.
During a brief question-and–answer period, senators mostly asked questions about how the proposed reforms would affect charter schools.
Sen. Scott Rupp (R-Wentzville), said he was concerned that DESE’s application didn’t remove the geographic limitations placed on charter schools, which can currently operate only in Kansas City and Saint Louis.
Others asked about how charter schools would report student academic performance.
“We’ve not been as we transparent about reporting the performance of charter schools as we should be,” Nicastro said. She added, however, that “Race to the Top” would make more information available, and would help make charter schools more accountable.
Nicastro was referring in part to legislative proposals that tweak charter school statutes, which DESE recently submitted to Missouri's General Assembly.