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Washington County to get more than expected in Race to the Top funding

January 13, 2011|By ANDREW SCHOTZ | andrews@herald-mail.com

ANNAPOLIS — Of the $250 million Maryland is getting in federal Race to the Top education funding, $3.1 million will go to Washington County, slightly more than originally expected, according to figures released Thursday.

Several months ago, before the federal government decided on the latest grant levels, the Maryland State Education Department estimated Washington County Public Schools' share would be $2.8 million.

The final figure was included in a packet shared with a state Senate committee in Annapolis on Thursday.

In August, in a second round of Race to the Top funding, the U.S. Department of Education awarded grants to Washington, D.C., and nine states, including $250 million for Maryland.

Those grants were part of $4.35 billion set aside for Race to the Top, a national school-improvement initiative.

Speaking to the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee Thursday, Nancy S. Grasmick, the state superintendent of schools, said the state will award half of the $250 million to local school systems for projects they have outlined.

Twenty-two of the state's 24 school systems — all but Montgomery and Frederick counties — will share that money over a four-year period, according to the packet distributed at the hearing.

Using the other $125 million, the state will add funding later to projects that need it.

Donna Hanlin, the assistant superintendent for curriculum at Washington County Public Schools, said in a telephone interview Thursday that the county will divide its money among four areas at the foundation of Race to the Top:

  • Professional development to train teachers in "common core" standards
  • Improving technology
  • A new mandatory teacher and principal evaluation system
  • Turning around low-achieving schools.

Washington County won't use much of its Race to the Top for the evaluation system because it already is getting a different federal grant for that, Hanlin said.

In September, Washington County announced that it would get $7.4 million in federal grant money over five years to create an incentive program for teachers and administrators at schools serving students from low-income families.

Five schools with high Free and Reduced Meals rates, a measure of poverty, will be covered — Fountaindale, Winter Street and Salem Avenue elementary schools and Northern and Western Heights middle schools.

During the Senate committee meeting, some people wore buttons celebrating the fact that Maryland recently was named the state with the top public education system for the third year in a row, according to the publication Education Week.

Sen. Ronald N. Young, D-Frederick/Washington, a member of the Senate committee and former teacher, told Grasmick he was concerned Maryland ranks 14th in math proficiency, while the United States lags behind other countries around the world, with thousands of math-related jobs available.

Grasmick said girls and minorities traditionally have been steered away from studying math, but the state is now focusing on a science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, curriculum, starting in elementary school.

Grasmick also said she's "a little troubled by the comparisons" of education in the United States and the rest of the world. Taiwan, for example, is just beginning to teach students with disabilities, something that's considered "a civil right" in the United States.

Hanlin is part of a group — the Maryland Council for Educator Effectiveness — working on a system to tie teacher evaluations to student performance.

The effort is part of a law the state passed last year to position itself for Race to the Top funding.

Hanlin said the group was due to make a recommendation by the end of December, but asked for a six-month extension and is continuing to meet.

It's not clear when Race to the Top money will be distributed to the states and Washington, D.C.

Maryland State Department of Education spokesman Bill Reinhard said Thursday that the state expects to get the money soon, but he doesn't know when.

The U.S. Department of Education's press office didn't have an answer to that on Thursday afternoon.

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