The Department of Education is backing up its stance of boosting school results with a pair of federal grants that have the potential to drastically alter public education.
The grants — one targeting the fees low income and at-risk students pay to take the Advanced Placement Test, and the other to fund a reform initiative — will have an immediate impact on the School District of Philadelphia.
Pennsylvania is one of 43 states to receive a portion of the $21.5 million to pay for the AP test, which usually cost upwards of $87 per test; this grant — worth $487,964 to the Pennsylvania Department of Education — will cover up to $38 per test, and allows for the test to be taken up to three times.
The estimated number of low-income test-takers determined the per-state funding of the program; for example, the California Department of Education received $7,603,946 while the South Dakota Department of Education received $9,868.
The Advanced Placement Test is taken by high school students to gauge their ability to take Advanced Placement classes, which will then count as credit towards their college degree; the test is administered by the College Board, and once students pass the exam, they become eligible to take college-level classes in subjects ranging from art history to U.S. government & politics.
“Advanced Placement participation is an important element in creating a college-going culture in our high schools,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, via a statement released by his office. “AP courses help students develop the study skills, critical reasoning and habits that prepare them for the transition to college.
“They give students, particularly first-generation college-goers, the confidence that they can successfully handle college-level work,” Duncan continued. “These funds will help eliminate financial roadblocks for more low-income students and allow them to fully benefit from the AP program.”
Eligible schools chosen to receive the grant must adopt and implement one of four federally-mandated reform models: Transformation, Turnaround, Restart and School Closure.
The Grover Cleveland Elementary School in Tioga will be the sole Philadelphia benefactor of the $6.9 million Federal School Improvement Grant, with the school receiving $1,385,140 for its “Restart” plan.
“Pennsylvania has a rich educational history, and is home to some of the best and brightest school leaders, educators and students, but unfortunately, there are too many schools that have a history of persistently failing to provide their students with a quality education,” said Pennsylvania Department of Education Secretary Ron Tomalis. “The intent of the School Improvement Grants is to allow low-performing schools to implement innovative educational initiatives that meet the needs of the students they serve and ensure their students receive a world-class education.
“I applaud the leadership of these schools for acknowledging the challenges they face and seeking an opportunity to reform their educational programs.”
While Grover Cleveland Elementary School didn’t show up on the commonwealth’s list of Persistently Dangerous Schools, it did fail to make Adequate Yearly Progress and is currently in the second phase of taking corrective action, according to the Pennsylvania School Board Association. According to the PDE, only the state’s lowest-achieving schools (failing to make substantial progress and/or graduating less than 60 percent of its students for two of the past three years) are eligible for the grant.
There were 115 eligible schools in Pennsylvania, but only 21 submitted applications, which drew the ire of Tomalis.
“It is inexcusable that 82 percent of eligible schools chose not to engage in a simple application process,” Tomalis said, “that could have resulted in additional educational opportunities for students.”