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Shelby County Schools plans to continue programs with leftover Race to the Top funds

Shelby County Schools administrators received approval from Tennessee Department of Education to use its $5 million left over from Race to the Top grant money next year on ACT preparation for high schools, dual enrollment, summer internships and assessments for students. Other programs that relied on the funds, including its pre-k initiative, could experience dramatic cuts.

In 2010, Tennessee was one of the first states awarded a four-year grant of more than $501 million in federal funds to improve education.  Each school district in the state received funds to implement programs to address student achievement and teacher and leadership effectiveness.

The grant period expires July 1.

Any work beyond the grant period must be approved by the state and U.S. Department of Education, said Kelli Gauthier, a spokeswoman with the state department of education.  Gauthier said additional funds won’t be awarded, but education reform efforts scheduled beyond the July 1 deadline will need state approval and the state must seek federal approval as well.

Districts must have all continuance requests for any initiatives tied to Race to the Top funding will be finalized by the end of June.

“Tennessee will likely file  a number of ‘no-cost’ extensions to the U.S. Department of Education,” Gauthier said.

When Tennessee won $501 million in the Race to the Top grant, half of the funds went to the state and the other half went to the districts. Districts across the state have a combined total of $56 million leftover from the $250 million received four years ago.  The state has $91 million left from the $250 million it received.

When Race to the Top was awarded, Memphis City Schools and Shelby County Schools were separate districts.  Memphis City received  $68,567,000 and Shelby County Schools received $5,310,500, according to unified Shelby County School officials.

When the districts merged last year, Legacy Shelby County Schools had $1,230,300 left over and Legacy Memphis City Schools had $24,921,474 remaining in RTTP funds.

The merged district now has around $5 million left to spend.

The district has outlined four areas – standards and assessments, data systems to provide teacher effectiveness on student achievement, turnaround low performing schools and promoting great teachers and leaders – as its focus areas in education reform, said Shelby County Schools Chief Academic Officer Roderick Richmond. 

The loss of the funds could mean fewer pre-kindergarten classrooms, nine positions in the strings (music) department and three special education supervisor positions, Richmond said.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson II wants to reinstate the 40 pre-K classes on the chopping block, but he said “it will be tricky.”

“We used Race to the Top money to pay for those extra pre-K classes and it will cost about $4 million to add the classrooms into the budget,” said Hopson on Tuesday following an SCS board meeting.

Richmond said the goal is to make sure the remaining funds are not used to pay for positions in the district.

“We’ve always tried to make sure we’re not over-populating the grant with staff,” he said.  “If we build capacity with staff, but then the positions are cut (due to loss of grant) then we lose the institutional knowledge.”