Published Online: March 11, 2010

W.Va. Gets $22 Million to Turn Around Bad Schools

Nearly $22 million in federal stimulus money will help West Virginia's worst schools take drastic measures, including replacing principals and overhauling curriculum, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced Thursday.

West Virginia is the first state to receive money through the federal School Improvement Grants program, which seeks to improve student performance by targeting chronically low-performing schools, since Duncan revamped criteria for use of the grants.

The funding is part of $3.5 billion in federal stimulus money made available to states this spring.

"When a school continues to perform in the bottom 5 percent of the state and isn't showing signs of growth or has graduation rates below 60 percent, something dramatic needs to be done," Duncan said in a prepared statement. "Turning around our worst performing schools is difficult for everyone but it is critical that we show the courage to do the right thing by kids."

Thirty-three schools in 20 West Virginia counties, including Berkeley, Kanawha and Wood, are eligible to apply to the state Department of Education for a share of the $22 million grant. Applications are due May 25, with grants of between $50,000 and $500,000 being awarded by July 6, said department spokeswoman Liza Cordeiro.

Using the transformation model, West Virginia schools chosen for funding will be required to replace their principals if they haven't done so in the past two years or are otherwise exempt, complete a comprehensive reform of their curricula, provide more professional development opportunities and extend learning time, among other strategies.

Changes could begin as soon as this fall.

Thursday's announcement came just a week after West Virginia education officials learned that their application for $80 million from the federal government's $4.3 billion "Race to the Top" program for educational reform did not make the first cut. Officials plan to tweak that application and resubmit it by June 1, the deadline for the second round.

Gov. Joe Manchin has said he would consider calling a special session to consider legislation that might bolster the state's "Race to the Top" application, including legislation to allow charter schools.

On Wednesday, he challenged state Board of Education members to be bold and take on a leadership role in pushing for changes that could help West Virginia secure $80 million for education reforms.

Although education officials won't know until next month where its "Race to the Top" application was weak, state schools Superintendent Steve Paine said the state's success in securing funding through the School Improvement Grants program proves the state's plan for addressing struggling schools is not the problem.

He added that the grants give the state the resources to fix the state's low-performing schools.

"If it's a leadership problem, lets fix the leadership," he said. "If it's not having quality teachers, let's hire quality teachers. If it's poverty, then let's provide some support."

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