Ka-Ching! $60 Million Coming to City Schools

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It's official. Forty-four of the city's lowest-performing schools will get to split nearly $60 million in extra funding, part of a federal grant program designed to help schools improve.

The New York State Education Department announced on Wednesday that it had signed off on the federal grants, which can range from under $1 million to up to $2 million a school. They are known as School Improvement Grants, and in order to get them, the city had to agree to implement a Washington-sanctioned form of reform for each school.

The most unusual model of reform is called "Restart," and it is happening in 14 city schools, starting this year. Officially, the city has handed over management responsibility for these schools to non-profit organizations, which will have the power to act as superintendents and make decisions regarding the school budget, staffing, and curriculum. But in practice, the relationship is more complex.

Principals at these schools were able to express a preference for which management company they wanted, and will pay them hundreds of thousands of dollars from their grant award. Some of the companies charge more than others, depending in part on how many services they provide. Principals have been told the relationship is more like a partnership. And ultimately, anything the company recommends will have to be approved by the city Department of Education.

The city is the first district in the state to try "restarting" schools.

Under this federal program, the city's several dozen closing schools are known as "turnaround" schools. Eleven of them are receiving grants. The money will be divided between the schools that are being phased out due to poor performance -- a gradual process that takes several years -- and the new schools that will replace them.

The least intrusive improvement model is "transformation." It requires that a new school leader be put in place, though in practice, that does not always happen. In the first year of the program last year, in some cases the city kept on the old leader as a "mentor principal" and then promoted a former assistant principal to be the full-time principal. In others, recent leadership changes meant the principal did not need to be ousted.

In its press release, the state lists the 44 city schools receiving grants. The grants can total up to $2 million for each of 3 years; some schools are in their second year of the program.