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Grants now in jeopardy with Furlough Fridays


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POSTED: Friday, November 13, 2009

Following stinging criticism from the nation's education secretary about closing schools on Furlough Fridays, the state acknowledged that it faces a difficult task in getting millions of dollars in federal aid available next year.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan says that because of the furloughs, Hawaii faces “;a heck of a challenge”; in qualifying for $20 million to $75 million in federal funds under the Obama administration's $4 billion “;Race to the Top”; grant program.

Duncan said he is “;highly aware”; of the actions taken by Hawaii to close public school classrooms 17 days this academic year and an equal amount next year because declining tax revenues have contributed to an estimated $1 billion shortfall in Hawaii's state budget.

He added that the actions of Gov. Linda Lingle, the Hawaii State Teachers Association and the state Board of Education mean eliminating 10 percent of island school days. He said, “;To have Hawaii eliminate 10 percent of their day(s) is mind-boggling.”;

Duncan said state education leaders will have to make “;an absolutely compelling case”; to qualify for the federal education dollars.

;[Preview]  Furlough Friday
 

School Furlough May Hurt Change At More Federal Money

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During a nationwide news teleconference yesterday, Duncan questioned whether eliminating 10 percent of the 180 days sets aside for education annually in Hawaii meets program's goals—“;raising the bar for all children”; and closing the achievement gap.

“;Frankly, that's a heck of a challenge.”;

State Board of Education Chairman Garrett Toguchi said, “;Secretary Duncan's statements are alarming but not surprising. The board has warned for several months that the massive budget reductions imposed on public schools would be catastrophic to students' education and make it harder for Hawaii to receive federal education assistance at a time it needs it most.”;

Bob Campbell, state Department of Education director of federal compliance and project management office, acknowledged the challenge ahead.

He said the education stimulus grant does not specify the amount of days students must attend classes.

Campbell said Hawaii's application “;clearly meets”; the criteria set forth by the grant program and said he hopes it will be judged on its merits.

Last month, Duncan said Hawaii had taken “;a step in the wrong direction.”;

“;All states are under financial pressure, but none are cutting this much learning time from their school year,”; Duncan wrote. “;It's inconceivable to me that this is the best solution for Hawaii.”;

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Duncan pointed out that Hawaii had already received $105 million in aid from a $40 billion fund in the economic stimulus plan designed to prop up states' education budgets, and that it was due to get another $52 million later this year.

“;One key criteria of the Race to the Top program calls on states to make education funding a priority. Clearly, that has not been the case in Hawaii, where the Education Department's $1.8 billion budget has been slashed by nearly $500 million over two years,”; Toguchi said.

Hawaii State Teachers Association President Wil Okabe said, “;We are deeply concerned about the secretary's remarks and the implications for Hawaii's public schools. We can only conclude Secretary Duncan is warning the state that if we don't restore the education budget and eliminate the furloughs, it's unlikely we will receive any Race to the Top grant money. ... Losing out on those grant funds would be tragic for Hawaii schools.”;

The education stimulus grants include union-backed changes to teacher assessment requirements. While student gains should still be a “;significant factor,”; educator evaluations should be designed with teacher and principal involvement, the U.S. DOE said yesterday.

Among other criteria for stimulus grants are a commitment to developing common, nationwide academic standards; creating more “;high quality”; charter schools; and turning around the lowest-performing schools, according to the federal government.

A state will have to meet a series of conditions to earn up to 500 points and boost its chances.

There are two rounds of competition for the grants. The federal agency will accept the states' applications until the middle of January. Applications for the second round will be accepted until June 1. The announcement of winners will be made on Sept. 30.

Before Duncan's news conference yesterday the state Department of Education said it has formed teams to focus on each of the areas of reform outlined by the federal government. It will also incorporate charter schools into its Race to the Top application.

“;We are working very hard to get the best application put together,”; said Kathryn Matayoshi, deputy superintendent.

Star-Bulletin reporter Susan Essoyan contributed to this report.