Slow SIG Process Leaves Lower-Performing Schools Scrambling

By Amy Buffenbarger

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan called for bold and aggressive reforms when he announced the final requirements for the $3.5 billion Title I School Improvement Grants (SIG) program last December. But as the school year approaches, many lower-performing schools still don’t know whether they will receive grants to fund their planned reforms.

The slow process of rolling out the SIG grants has left school leaders across the country scrambling to make plans.

State education departments submitted their applications for the funds to the U.S. Department of Education in February, and 43 states have been awarded SIG funds based on Title 1 formula.

But the process doesn’t end there.

Once the states get awarded their federal money, the school districts must compete with each other and submit their own applications to their state education departments. Even in states that have received their SIG allocations from the federal government, the process of selecting schools for grant money rolls on… slowly.

In their application, each school district must identify the schools they want to overhaul and include a proposal with the reform model they will use: transformation (instructional reform, extended learning time, etc.); turnaround (fire principal and 50% of staff); restart (reopen under the management of a charter school or other management organization); or closure.

Then, it’s up to the state to approve the school districts’ applications and divvy the SIG funds between eligible schools with “greatest need’ and “strongest commitment” to reform.

However, there has been a lag in many states between the time when they receive federal funds and when they officially name the schools that will be awarded grants. And with school starting in several states in just a few weeks, that lag leaves many school leaders unsure of how to proceed with planned reforms.

The majority of schools receiving SIG money have so far selected the transformation model, but the other three models are more disruptive.

To execute the turnaround model, for example, plans should be well underway. Otherwise, a school could be in the position of having to fire its principal and half its teachers just days before the start of the school year.

Many schools know they are eligible for the SIG funds. But without knowing for certain how much money they will receive, if any at all, they are stuck waiting.

It’s been said that the wheel of change turns slowly. But for many low-performing schools throughout the country, at least for the time being, the wheel appears stuck.

NEA’s Priority Schools Campaign is tracking this information and updates can be found here.