The Department of Education is seeking proposals for 21 comprehensive centers spread across the country that will provide expertise to states and school districts working to meet the demands of the No Child Left Behind Act.
The new centers, which are financed at $43 million this fiscal year and possibly as much as $60 million in fiscal 2006, will replace a web of comprehensive assistance centers and mathematics-and-science centers that span the country now. Unlike the old centers, though, the new ones will be more tightly focused on schools’ needs under the 3-year-old federal law.
“People have been complaining about the lack of funding for technical assistance for NCLB,” said James W. Kohlmoos, the president of the National Education Knowledge Industry Association, a Washington-based trade group for educational research organizations. “Well, now it looks like there will be almost $60 million in technical assistance the department will be able to leverage in implementing the programs of NCLB.”
The centers were created under the Technical Assistance Act of 2002, which calls for at least one such center in each of the 10 geographical regions that the department’s regional education laboratories serve now. The idea was that the two entities would work hand in hand, with the labs specializing in research and development, and the centers offering on-the-ground technical help. But the department’s proposal, published in the June 3 Federal Register, departs from the original law in a couple of ways.
First, it calls for 16 regional centers and five content centers that would focus on areas that are key to the implementation of the federal education law. Those areas are: teacher quality, assessment and accountability, instruction, innovation and improvement, and high schools.
“We’re not expecting every regional center to be a jack-of-all-trades,” said Kathryn M. Doherty, the special assistant to the assistant secretary in the department’s office of elementary and secondary education, which oversees the project. “The content centers can provide targeted information, guidance, and focus.”
Second, the plan carves the country up into regions different from those in the regional-laboratory system.
That part of the plan concerns Mr. Kohlmoos. “It seems like it’s chopped up in ways that might cause confusion in the future,” he said.
But Ms. Doherty said the lines were drawn that way in order to group states with similar populations, educational needs, and educational governance systems.
Proposed funding for the centers includes $6 million in federal special education aid. The money would be used to integrate technical assistance for special education students into the centers’ work.
Applicants have until June 23 to notify the Education Department that they intend to apply to run a center.