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The School Board of Levy County is discussing whether or not to participate in the Race to the Top fund, a federal competitive grant program designed to reward states for high performance in education.
Meeting last Tuesday with the school board, teachers' union and administrators, Superintendent said that the district was still in the opening phases of examining and planning for the fund.
"Right now, we've just got more questions than answers," he said.
The school district is also under a time constraint. The deadline for the application to participate in Race to the Top is set for Jan. 8, 2010.
The program is part of the federal government's stimulus package, which passed in February. Race to the Top provides $4.35 billion to states that participate in the program. Florida could receive up to $1 billion, dispersed over four years.
Florida is considered one of the frontrunners for the fund, since many of the state's educational standards and the United States Department of Education standards are already closely aligned in many subjects, such as math and biology.
States must apply to receive money from Race to the Top, and are awarded points for meeting certain criteria. The criteria include:
• State Success Factors. These include a statewide comprehensive education reform agenda, the ability to ensure the ability to implement the program and demonstrated improvement of student outcomes since 2003.
• Standards and Assessments. Florida — and participating school districts — will have to accept and implement federally created common standards used for testing. The state also has to develop "high-quality" assessments and ensure that it has the ability to implement them.
• Data Systems to Support Instruction. The state must have a plan for the use and availability of data, increase use and adoption of modern data systems and must make the data available to researchers.
• Great Teachers and Leaders. Florida must have a plan to improve teacher effectiveness and be able to ensure an equitable distribution of high quality teachers and administrators.
• General criteria. This includes the state's ability to maintain a high level of education funding. The state is also not allowed to inhibit charter schools.
School districts have a choice in whether to participate in Race to the Top. Participating districts are eligible to receive 50 percent of the program's allocation, which is given out based on several factors, including school district size. the remaining 50 percent is used for competitive grants for schools based on need. School districts that do not choose to join Race for the Top are not eligible for the program's money.
The details of Race to the Top are still in the planning phases at all levels: federal, state and school district. Topics still being debated include a wide range of issues, from the viability of existing standardized tests to the amount of time students spend in school.
Director of Finance Bob Clemons said that Levy County could possibly receive anywhere between $1 million to $2 million for participating.
He added, however, that the number was only a guess at this point, since details were still being worked out. He based the estimate on money the school district received from the Florida Education Finance Program last year.
But with any federal program, Hastings said, there are reasons for and against participating.
"There's always pros and cons," he said. "There's always things that you want to buy into, and there's some you don't."
School Board member G. Frank Etheridge voiced concern at one of the stipulations of participating, which indicated district and school administrative responsibilities will significantly increase under Race to the Top.
The next meeting to discuss the program is scheduled for Dec. 22.