State education commissioner talks about stimulus program |

State education commissioner talks about stimulus program

Jack Weinstein

Colorado Commissioner of Education Dwight D. Jones takes a few moments to address school administrators, mostly from Routt County, during a stop in Steamboat Springs on Tuesday morning. The commissioner was addressing issues dealing with the "Race to the Top" federal education grant funds, which are designed to help school systems across the United States with federal stimulus dollars. Special assistant Nina Lopez is also pictured.

Editor’s note: This story has been corrected from its original version. The Colorado Department of Education is creating new state model standards, which define what students should learn each year from kindergarten through 12th grade. It is not creating standardized curriculum.

Education leaders learned about a possible path to more funding Tuesday morning.

Colorado Department of Education Commissioner Dwight D. Jones gave a presentation in Steamboat Springs about the state’s application to receive some of the $4.3 billion in “Race to the Top” federal stimulus funding.

Jones said his Steamboat visit was part of a three-day statewide tour to explain Race to the Top, which provides states funding through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Officials from Routt County schools and nonprofit groups were on hand to hear about the funding, which if granted, would be split 50-50 by the state and school districts.

He said the application, led by Gov. Bill Ritter and being prepared by the state, would be evaluated on four criteria: participation in national efforts to adopt common curriculum standards and assessments, implementation of statewide data systems to support instruction, differentiation of teachers and principals according to effectiveness, and turning around struggling schools.

Jones said the funding would be dedicated toward improving student achievement and closing achievement gaps. He said the state has estimated that if it were approved, it would receive $200 million to $300 million.

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The funding is dedicated to school districts according to the federal Title 1 formula, which means most would go to low-income districts and districts that struggle academically.

Because Steamboat is a high-performing district academically, Superintendent Shalee Cunningham said she didn’t think it would benefit from the funding, or would receive very little.

“We have high achievement, and even our low-income and minority kids do well,” she said. “We’ll be at the bottom of this list, I think.”

Nina Lopez, who is coordinating the state’s use of stimulus money, said if Colorado were approved for Race to the Top funding, the money wouldn’t be used to “backfill” the state’s budget cuts.

Instead, the state’s portion would go toward implementing a new $60 million to $80 million standards and assessment system, Jones said. He said the state had recently rolled out the Colorado Growth Model, its new student and school evaluation tool.

“We think it just moves forward our current agenda,” he said about the stimulus funding.

By using stimulus funding to implement the new standards and assessment system, Jones added, the state would cut in half the $15 million to $17 million in administrative costs for providing those assessments.

The state would request that local school districts enter a partnership that would require them to implement all aspects of the state plan, participate in evaluation efforts, comply with reporting requirements and meet project implementation requirements. As of Tuesday morning, Jones said 85 of Colorado’s 178 school districts already had signed a partnership agreement, but he would like them all to sign on.

Cunningham said she thought the state’s plans for using the funding were great. She said she plans to speak with the district’s principals this week and the School Board next week about the possibility of entering into a partnership.

Hayden Superintendent Greg Rockhold and South Routt Superintendent Scott Mader said they would speak to their school boards about entering that partnership with the state.

“We will investigate it, absolutely,” Mader said. “We will talk to the board and the district improvement team to see what the interest is. I think there’s a lot of potential to forward what we’re already doing.”

Lopez said that interest from other states for Race to the Top funding was high and that the federal government said it wants to award fewer states, maybe six to 12, with larger pieces of the pie.

Jones said applications would be due in two phases, after the first of the year and in spring. Funding for the first phase would be awarded in the spring, and funding for the second phase next fall.

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