The School District of Philadelphia has officially entered the $400 million “Race to the Top” competition, meaning it joins 892 other school districts nationwide in attempting to reap the biggest reward for gains made in reforming the way the district delivers education.
The district, along with 33 other districts throughout the Commonwealth, has applied for several grants, with the district specifically applying for two grant blocks — one in the $10 million to $20 million range, and the other in the $30 million to $40 million range.
The $400 million is earmarked by the United States Department of Education to help with localized reformation projects, which include personalizing education to fit the more specific needs of students, closing the achievement gap and further preparing students — especially those in high school — for college or entry-level positions in the workforce.
That would certainly help in Philadelphia, as the district is in the midst of transferring power to incoming superintendent Dr. William Hite Sr. On many levels, the district is still struggling with transparency issues of its own, as it faces a budget deficit approaching $300 million and the austerity measures that the deficit has forced.
“I believe the best ideas come from leaders at the local level, and the enthusiastic response to the Race to the Top district competition highlights the excitement that districts have to engage in locally designed reforms that will directly improve student achievement and educator effectiveness,” said United States Secretary of Education Arne Duncan in a statement released by his office. “We hope to build on this nationwide momentum by funding districts that have innovative plans to transform the learning environment, a clear vision for reform and a track record for success.”
According to the Department of Education, these four-year grants will range in worth from $5 million to $40 million, and competition will certainly be stiff, as the department will only grant up to 25 of these awards.
Pennsylvania has long participated in the Race to the Top competitions. As recently as last year, the commonwealth received nearly $42 million in Race to the Top funds.
“I know, from my time spent as a teacher and with my own two children, that a one-size-fits-all approach to education does not create a successful learning environment,” Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett said when he announced last year that Pennsylvania received $41,326,299. “Our students need quality options that fit their academic abilities and their aspirations for the future. We must have educators who are prepared and capable of meeting the needs of our diverse student population.”
Secretary of Education Ron Tomalis echoed much of Corbett’s sentiment when the award was announced.
“The focus of our grant application is to improve public education for every student,” Tomalis said. “The funds awarded to Pennsylvania will support the work already being done by Governor Corbett and the department to ensure that, regardless of ZIP code or socioeconomic status, every child receives an education that provides them with the opportunity to be successful.”
Perhaps portending what the commonwealth would do with the funds if it receives Race to the Top grants this year, Tomalis previously stated that the fund would mostly be used for pellucidity.
“As a result of the Race to the Top Grant award, funds will be allocated to increase transparency at Pennsylvania’s public schools,” Tomalis said when last year’s award was announced. “Ultimately, the goal is to provide parents with the information necessary to make informed decisions regarding their child’s educational future.”