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Tight Deadlines Marked Start Of Aid Program

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Because of the short application and selection period, teachers in several states did not get a chance to compete for the first federally funded fellowships honoring Sharon Christa McAuliffe, the New Hampshire schoolteacher who was killed last year in the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger.

Officials in a number of states said they had difficulty notifying teachers and encouraging them to apply for the fellowships because they did not receive information packets from the U.S. Education Department until early June, shortly before the school year ended in most districts. Since the deadline for states to choose their grant recipients was Aug. 7, there was not enough time to reach all teachers and complete the review process, the officials said.

Under the $1.95-million program, each state, territory, and the District of Columbia can receive grants based on its number of full-time teachers. The grants total at least $25,000 for each state and can be awarded to a single teacher or to several.

Because of the time constraints, three states--Ohio, Rhode Island, and Washington--did not participate in the program at all.

"It's not that we didn't want to," said Lorraine Webber, special assistant to Rhode Island's education commissioner. "We just didn't have enough time to get all teachers and administrators involved when most of these people were on vacation."

Some states that did participate made special efforts to get the information to teachers. "I had to pull my whole staff off other duties for four days to get the program set up and get the information out," said Sherry Thomas, program director for teacher recruitment and retention in Florida. "We did get some calls from teachers who came back to school a little discouraged that they hadn't gotten the word."

The selection process was further complicated by an Education Department requirement that states establish a seven-member review panel to choose the recipients. The regulations stipulate that the panel include teachers, adminstrators, parents, and representatives from higher education appointed by the governor.

Federal education officials said they disseminated the information to the states as soon as they could. "The program was handed over to our office in January and then regulations had to be written and approved," said Donna Moore, the department's project officer for the fellowship program.

Ms. Moore said the department worked closely with the states to help them meet the deadlines, and in some cases extended the deadline until Aug. 20. Recipients of the awards will be announced Sept. 21.

A new schedule has been adopted for the program's second year in order to avoid repeating this year's problems, according to Ms. Moore. States will receive information packets in November and will have until March to choose their recipients.--rrw

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